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Petrobras, Why Privatization Alone Can Never Kill Corruption
Hélio Schartsman

-OpEd-

SÃO PAULO — The ongoing corruption and money laundering scandals at Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras have badly tarnished the image of the company. Once considered as a sort of national treasure, the public firm faces almost daily revelations about kickbacks paid to politicians from oil sales as part of a scheme to buy votes, which has led to a growing chorus calling for Petrobras to be privatized.

But that reasoning is flawed. If being in private hands was any guarantee against corruption, then there wouldn't be so many directors and managers who have wound up behind bars. That doesn't mean, though, that privatization doesn"t offer a cure to many of the ills that are causing devastating damage to state-owned companies.

Australian philosopher Peter Singer identified the issue well in a 1999 book in which he defended the left's adoption of Social Darwinism instead of fighting against it. On paper — that is, in abstract terms and without taking human nature into consideration — the best way to provide goods and services to the population would be via state monopoly. It offers many advantages without requiring that benefits be redistributed among shareholders.

But reality doesn't exist on paper, and "state monopoly" is often mocked as synonymous with "inefficiency." That's because it is human nature to work better and harder when we do so for selfish reasons — in other words, to earn money and prestige.

If those responsible for the day-to-day business of a company don't benefit one way or another from its success, the end result is a clear break between the interests of the organization and that of its workers. In the best-case scenario, that leads to inefficiencies, and in the worst case, to systematic corruption.

The bottom line is not necessarily that Petrobras must be privatized. But there's no doubt that the oil giant needs to adopt some habits that are commonplace in private companies. For instance, its directors should be chosen for their competence and experience, not for political motivations.

According to Singer, one of the left's big mistakes has been to believe that there's no fixed human nature. But our nature is a hybrid one. We can work hand in hand, but it's inevitable that we take advantage of a situation when the conditions allow and the opportunity presents itself.

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Geopolitics

A Ukrainian In Belgrade: The Straight Line From Milosevic To Putin, And Back Again

As hostilities flare again between Serbia and Kosovo, the writer draws connections between the dissolutions of both the USSR and Yugoslavia, and the leaders who exploit upheaval and feed the worst kind of nationalism.

On the streets of Belgrade, Serbia

Anna Akage

-Analysis-

At high school in Kyiv in the late 1990s, we studied the recent history of Yugoslavia: the details of its disintegration, the civil wars, the NATO bombing of Belgrade. When we compared Yugoslavia and the USSR, it seemed evident to us that if Boris Yeltsin or Mikhail Gorbachev had been anything like Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, bloody wars would have been unavoidable for Ukraine, Belarus, and other republics that instead had seceded from the Soviet Union without a single shot being fired.

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Fast forward to 2020, when I visited Belgrade for the first time, invited for a friend's wedding. Looking around, I was struck by the decrepit state of its roads, the lack of any official marked cabs, by the drudgery, but most of all by the tension and underlying aggression in society. It was reflected in all the posters and inscriptions plastered on nearly every street. Against Albania, against Kosovo, against Muslims, claims for historical justice, Serbian retribution, and so on. A rather beautiful, albeit by Soviet standards, Belgrade seemed like a sleeping scorpion.

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