During the early 1980s, the architect of the Brazil’s ‘economic miracle’ was vilified almost unanimously when he sacrificed monetary stability on the altar of growth. Between 1979 and 1985 Delfim Netto, now 91, was in charge of economic planning under the country’s last military dictator.
However, after democracy returned to the country a monumentally inept civilian administration somehow managed to stoke the fires of inflation whilst derailing economic growth, presiding over a recession that later entered history books as the ‘lost decade’. Puzzled, angry, and disappointed, many Brazilians slapped bumper stickers on their car proclaiming: ‘Delfim, eu era feliz e nao sabia’ – Delfim, I was happy but didn’t know.
It is the same feeling currently felt by many as the pandemic upsets routines, imposes limits, and subverts expectations. We may have complained loudly about the old world’s many iniquities, but now long for the time when we could worry about less immediate threats to our collective well-being such as climate change, social inequality, and the plundering of the public commons.
This also recalls the words of an oil executive who, again in the 1980s, celebrated the intense public debate then raging over abortion, euthanasia, cruise missiles, and a host of other moral issues: “As long as politicians keep their hands off the economy, we’ll be fine and can keep raking in the cash.”
Climate doomsayers have long warned us that our way of life must be changed radically in order to stave off disaster. That change has been forced upon us not by Greta Thunberg, but by an even smaller harbinger of doom – a virus so tiny its very existence is doubted by assorted crackpots and eager believers in conspiracy theories. The air is heavy with the self-congratulatory utterings of the I-told-you-so crowd.
Ignoring these sorry souls, most of us just want our old lives back, including its slightly less agreeable bits. The new world thrust upon us is neither brave nor welcoming. How long before patience runs out and people start demanding the impossible from their rulers?
Some Americans, armed to the teeth, are already taking to the street to demand their former lives back. Their president seems willing to comply but even the mightiest man on earth must accept a reality that refuses to cooperate. In fact, there is nothing anybody can do but hope for science to come up with a vaccine. Until then we must sit tight whilst quietly suffering bouts of nostalgia for a time when we were happy bit didn’t know.0