Express | Portugal and the Future

This autumn, the expectations of the Portuguese regarding the future of the country are particularly bleak. More than two-thirds of respondents in the latest ICS/Iscte survey expect that by 2030 we will pay more taxes and still have higher public debt and more inequality between rich and poor. Few foresee improvements in the standard of living of families or in the position of the Portuguese economy in relation to the richest countries in Europe. Is this pessimism the result of the pandemic context? From the political crisis first foretold and then triggered by the lead of the State Budget? From any cultural heritage that leads us to think that our fate is sad and that the worst is yet to come? Maybe a little bit of all of this. But it may not be just that.

Understandably, when asked what public spending priorities should be to improve Portugal’s future, respondents with lower levels of education and living with greater difficulties tend to favor pensions and social support for the most disadvantaged. In other words, they prioritize expenditure that protects the most vulnerable against income losses due to ageing, illness, or unemployment, while preserving, as far as possible — and we know how little that is possible — their purchasing power.

However, the problem arises when, in a context of scarcity of resources, one is forced to make choices between these priorities and others that could help to reduce, in the long term, the social vulnerabilities felt today. For that we would need to invest in expansion of human capital, qualification of the workforce and improvement of conditions for integration into the labor market, increasing expenditure on education, child care and scientific research, for example. Unsurprisingly, given that they are the ones who would benefit most from the returns of this type of investment in the future, it is the young people who give it the most priority in this survey.

It so happens that these young people are also those who vote least in elections and whose presence in political decision-making bodies is scarcer. We would all like these dilemmas not to exist. But when the needs of the present and the future collide, choices are made. In the last decade, among the OECD countries, Portugal was one of the countries with the least increase in public expenditure on education per student., although the number of students has decreased. Our public expenditure per child on crèches and primary education is today the same as in 2005, surpassing only Poland, Chile, Mexico, Turkey and Colombia. Furthermore, after a decade of stagnation in spending devoted to research and development as a % of GDP, we went from 22nd to 25th place among OECD countries. If the future looks bleak, there are good reasons for it.

* ICS-ULisboa
** Iscte-IUL

Source: Expresso by

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