If anyone could claim to be leading by example in an age of austerity, it is José Mujica, Uruguay‘s president, who has forsworn a state palace in favour of a farmhouse, donates the vast bulk of his salary to social projects, flies economy class and drives an old Volkswagen Beetle….
Key energy and telecommunications industries are nationalised. Under Mujica’s predecessor, Uruguay led the world in moves to restrict tobacco consumption….Such actions have won praise and – along with progressive policies on abortion and gay marriage – strengthened Uruguay’s reputation as a liberal country….
Uruguay’s options to improve society are limited, he believes, by the power of global capital. “I’m just sick of the way things are. We’re in an age in which we can’t live without accepting the logic of the market,” he said. “Contemporary politics is all about short-term pragmatism. We have abandoned religion and philosophy … What we have left is the automatisation of doing what the market tells us.”
The president lives within his means and promotes the use of renewable energy and recycling in his government’s policies. At the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last year, he railed against the “blind obsession” to achieve growth through greater consumption. But, with Uruguay’s economy ticking along at a growth rate of more than 3%, Mujica – somewhat grudgingly, it seems – accepts he must deliver material expansion. “I’m president. I’m fighting for more work and more investment because people ask for more and more,” he said. “I am trying to expand consumption but to diminish unnecessary consumption … I’m opposed to waste – of energy, or resources, or time. We need to build things that last. That’s an ideal, but it may not be realistic because we live in an age of accumulation.”
Asked for a solution to this contradiction, the president admits he doesn’t have the answers, but the former Marxist said the search for a solution must be political. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction,” he said. “But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”