Mitt Romney's response this week to President Obama's populist speech in Kansas was to warn that Obama "seeks to replace our merit-based society with an entitlement society." Daniel Henninger went even further in his op-ed yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, declaring the speech "what you'd expect to hear in Caracas or Buenos Aires."
It's funny that Henninger should make the South American comparison. Because this very week the New Yorker came out with a great piece on Brazil by Nicholas Lemann that offers a reminder that Obama's rhetoric, far from echoing what passes for the norm in Venezuela and Argentina, falls far short even of what is considered acceptable rhetoric in Brazil, a country considered a success story even by many right-leaning economists, and one that has been weathering the global downturn better than just about anyone and is on the verge of becoming the fifth biggest economy in the world. Brazil's been booming despite (because of?) an open embrace of industrial policy and a very aggressive attempt to close the inequality gap, most notably through a blatantly redistributionist program, Bolsa Familia, that provides monthly cash grants to millions of poor families. And the country's leaders are not shy about making the case for this approach in terms that make Obama sound like Hayek by comparison.
The current president, Dilma Rousseff, tells Lemann:
"The main aim of economic development must always be the improvement of living conditions. You cannot separate the two concepts. The creation and distribution of wealth increases the living standards; likewise, increases in living conditions lead to economic prosperity."
Her predecessor, Lula da Silva, tells Lemann:
"We have to distribute wealth in order to grow. The economists were always agonizing over this. We proved that it was possible to grow, to distribute income, and to do so with social inclusion without inflation."
Maybe if the Republicans succeed in deposing the leader of the entitlement society, he can go to Rio for the World Cup in 2014 and learn how to really do redistribution.