Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Brazil pensions: has the time for change come?

Useful article on Brazil's pension system in the NYT. It clearly describes what is useful about the system but also its huge problems of inequality. The good comes from generous non-contributory pensions, particularly in the rural sector:
The pension system can ease extreme poverty. For instance, rural workers can retire five years before others even if they have never contributed to the public pension system, receiving a monthly payment equal to the minimum wage, about $210 a month.
The growth of the minimum wage has made these advances even more significant. Yet, at the same time, there are huge problems with inequality in the system--something that Hunter and Sugiyama explained well years ago. See this extreme case
In 2000, for instance, officials did away with rules allowing the daughters of military officials to receive the pensions of their fathers after they died. But the shift applied only to new entrants into the armed forces, so more than 185,000 women still draw military survivors’ pensions, often amounting to the full salary of their fathers upon retirement. Spending on such pensions is forecast to last through the end of this century, economists say.
There is little doubt that advances towards a more universal, redistributive system require a reduction of some of these benefits and an increase in other transfers and services. Yet this will be difficult as the upper middle class uses anti-austerity rhetoric to prevent reform. Here you have a former leader of the shopkeepers' associations:
Making retirees pay the price is just not fair,” said João Pimenta, 63, a former director of a shopkeepers’ association who retired at age 49 and regularly leads protests against pension cuts in Brazil’s capital, Brasília. “Why isn’t the economic elite being called upon to sacrifice? I’m sick of hearing that normal people need to pay the price with their pensions.”
How can we promote anti-austerity and, at the same time, reduce segmentation in social policy is one of the main challenges of Latin America in the post-commodity boom era.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How useful lectures are?

Molly Worthen offers a nice defence of the value of lectures in the NYT. Yet I have two problems with it: a. I am not totally convinced that this is a humanities vs "hard" science. Yes, lectures makes more sense in humanities but the lack of attention is a problem everywhere. b. What she never really demonstrate is that students are actually paying attention in the lecture. Moreover, as this useful set of videos show, the problem is that great students will truly benefit from lectures but many others accustomed to surface learning will not. c. Presenting lectures vs gadgets as a trade off does not make much sense. There is obviously space for lectures in the classroom but there is also room for all kinds of activities that may or may not involve computers.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Horizontes: Latin American Centre Newsletter

The last issue was published some time ago and can be found here. It has a nice summary of the experience of key academics who were members of the LAC. It is quite funny!

Call for papers

Here a call for papers for a special section in the Revista de Economia Mundial /World Economic Journal that I am co-editing. We are looking for short (5,000 words) contributions on income inequality in Latin America both historically and contemporarily. Send us your contribution or, if you have any questions, email me.

Role of fathers in transforming families

Let me return to my blogs one more academic year with a topic that is far from my research on Latin America. In recent feminist discussions on how to transform society in a women-friendly way, men are mentioned but occupy a background role. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg , highlights the need to have supporting partners... but nothing else. This is rather disappointing because without more men actively demanding change, things are going to move slower than many of us would love. Now we have an interesting contribution from Andrew Moravcsik, Anne-Marie Slaughter's husband, in the Atlantic. He rightly highlights the need to have committed fathers if women are going to be successful in the labor force. Implicitly, he also shows the need to recognise the value of fatherhood and praise it. Many of the problems he discusses and the need to have a "lead parent" can resonate with many others in different circumstances. Nevertheless, like Sandberg and like Slaughter, his class-bias is obvious and limits the usefulness of the analysis. How many husbands have a wife who is Dean or NGO president? How many are full professors but still playing the role of lead father? Of course, having really successful women of the type Moravcsik is discussing is important. Yet most other families are in a different situation: some will have parents struggling to make ends meet. Others will be made of professionals with busy but workable lives. Do we need a lead parent in all those cases? Or is the big question there how do you negotiate so that both parents can lead? And is the real challenge to increase the number of Deans or to simply shift the distribution of effort in the household in all cases?