BOGOTA — Global warming — the rotten fruit of our international economic order — is nature's declaration that it is not an inert entity. Climate change itself is the earth's increasingly loud protest about the abuses we have inflicted on it.
This order, or disorder, also underpins the inequalities that have come to distort the economy, both globally and nationally, and to prompt alarming notes from the most unlikely quarters. Microsoft magnate Bill Gates, the International Monetary Fund's Christine Lagarde, and the Pope are among those warning that a world where 1% of people are as rich as half the planet's population is simply not sustainable.
This inequality is evident in the tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean, with the almost daily spectacle of African and Arab migrants risking their lives — all that they have — as they seek to flee the poverty and violence that afflict them in their home countries. It's not just a matter of material inequality, but also of unequal opportunities. Extreme inequalities have led many to completely ignore the existence of others, and their claims and rights.
The beloved late Colombian minister Rodrigo Marín Bernal responded a few years back to the question of the economy's purpose by simply saying that the best social policy is good economic policy. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy recently affirmed this notion when he said, "It is very dangerous to think you can have social policies that are not sustained by a solid economic policy."
Venezuela v. Brazil
Many social objectives are attained with good economic policies, as Marín said: decent jobs, economic security, benefits and pensions systems, taxation and equitable incomes. They also give social policies the financial and material bases necessary to be both solid and sustainable. Social and financial, in other words, must be pursued side by side.
The crisis in Venezuela is rooted in the obsession of the late Hugo Chávez to distribute, for greater social benefits, the state's enormous oil revenues. It was a praiseworthy purpose but impossible to achieve merely as a presidential wish. Undoubtedly, the poor in Venezuela are better off than they were.
But the discourse of a new economy to complement social action never went beyond words, as oil revenues merely became an unending stream of subsidies. The country failed to turn the model of selling raw materials into a diversified and transformative economy that would give Venezuelans stable jobs and fair earnings instead of diffused and indefinite subsidies.
In Brazil, which inspired our own Families in Action aid programs, the government opted for moderate, neoliberal economic policies clearly distinct from Venezuela's handout policies. We should look to Brazil to avoid falling into the trap engulfing our neighbor today.
The lessons are clear. Social policies that redistribute incomes without transforming the real situation in society will finally hit the wall that is an unchanged economy. Bold policies are needed to bring together social needs and sensible economics to serve the great and good objectives of society.