quinta-feira, 11 de fevereiro de 2010

Quick Facts: Portuguese GDP evolution across PS and PSD lead Governments

In the last 30 years, Portugal's political spectrum has been pretty much split between governments lead by the centre-right PSD and the centre-left PS.

It is interesting and entertaining to try to establish connections between left/right-oriented policies and economical output.

The data shows, however, that despite the fact that both PS and PSD (and others) tend to try to associate economic performance with governmental policies, it seems that similar sized economies have been having a tendency to have similiar performances, irrespective of their governances.

Does this mean that the political claims and accusations are mere populist statements? Or does it mean that the international markets are more determinant to economic performance than governance? I say the latter is definitely a more scary and interesting thought than the former.

sexta-feira, 29 de janeiro de 2010

Changing trends: An Economy shifting towards R&D

An official from the Portuguese Government today announced that, in 2008, Portugal's exports of Pharmaceutical products exceeded for the first time the exports of Port Wine, the latter being one of the traditional Holy Grails of Portuguese exports.

The news may be a surprise to many, but truth is that the Portuguese economy has for a few years now been increasingly moving towards knowledge and innovation, and mostly through private innitiative which is a good thing in itself but also means the Government should make more of an effort to up the R&D investment from the current just over 1% to something more like 2%. That gap would mean something like jumping from the top40 into the top20 of countries in terms of R&D investment/% GDP.

One should praise companies such as Bial or Hovione that have been making great progress in terms of investing in R&D in the Pharmaceutical industry. But several other SMEs have been reported to have a track record of excellence in this field.

But there are also some positive news coming from other fields such as renewable energies, with portuguese EDP Renewables being worldwide in the top5 of renewables companies and the second-largest generator of wind power. But renewables will probably be a new topic at a later stage.

An interesting development might be the construction of "PlanIT Valley", in Northern Portugal, an investiment that aims at building a new sustainable and technological city and could reach 15 billion EUR and aims at representing as much as 5% of Portugal's GDP. Megalomania? Maybe yes, maybe not, but definitely the sort of initiative that pushes the economy forward.

I leave you with an institutional video of one of the technological parks in Portugal that are promoting biotechnology and pharmaceutical R&D.

Biocant Park is promoting biotech and pharma R&D

terça-feira, 26 de janeiro de 2010

Quick Facts: Champalimaud Vision Award

Did you know that the Champalimaud Foundation, based in Portugal, annually grants the prestigious Champalimaud Vision Award? This is one of the highest financial rewards in terms of scientific prizes worldwide, and the current prize of 1 million euros is equivalent (at current 2010 exchange rates) to the 1.4 million dollars awarded with Nobel Prizes.

The award recognises excellence in research leading to a better understanding of vision or progresses in the alleviation of visual impairment and blindness.

International personalities such as Mr. Jacques Delors (former President of the European Commission) and Prof. Amartya Sen (renowned Indian economist and Nobel laureate) are part of the jury panel. Also, Dr. James D. Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA structure and Nobel laureate, is head of the Scientific Committee of the Champalimaud Foundation.

Champalimaud Vision Award 2008

domingo, 24 de janeiro de 2010

The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

In the aftermath of the recent Haiti Earthquake of 12 Jan 2009, many of my thoughts have been with the victims of this devastating catastrophe and I can't help but compare it to the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake that wrecked the Portuguese capital.

On Saturday 1 November 1755, around 10.30 am, a violent earthquake scoring around 9 in the Richter scale (that is roughly 1000 times stronger in the epicentre than the recent Haiti quake) rocked Lisbon, followed by a powerful tsunami.

It is thought that the fact that it was All Saints Day, a religious holiday highly celebrated by Catholics with burning candles, was a major contribution to the massive fires that blazed throughout Lisbon.

At the time Lisbon had probably around 250 000 inhabitants and it is thought that up to 100 000 people died. Around 85% percent of the buildings in the city were destroyed together with several cultural treasures. This included the Phoenix Opera which was only a few months old and was totally burnt down, The Royal Ribeira Palace and several historical records of explorations by Vasco da Gama and other early navigators.

But more than all this worldly damage, one can imagine the devastating humanitarian crisis it must have created. If with today's globalised aid and technical developments we still have major humanitarian tragedies such as the Indic Tsunami or Haiti, it must have been much worse back in the eighteenth century. Epidemics, Hunger, Wounded, Lootings, ...

This crisis scenario also had huge impact in the economy and was a major blow to the portuguese colonial empire. It greatly contributed to its decline, as it forced authorities to focus on the reconstruction of Lisbon, neglecting their overseas regions and ultimately leading to legitimate generalised unhappiness abroad.

By the late eighteenth century, Portugal had lost control of most of it's colonies in Asia, and the fragile status of the Economy turned Portugal into an easy target of Napoleon and the Peninsular War was in the origin of the Independence of Brazil.

It would be unfair to finish this post without mentioning the Marquis of Pombal (full name Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo), then prime minister of King Joseph I, who greatly contributed to the reconstruction of Lisbon and is behind the concept of the Pombaline Downtown that replaced the destroyed medieval downtown and still stands as the heart of Lisbon. He also was associated with the development of Seismology, fostering statistical enquiries and studies of anti-seismic structures.

Today's Pombaline Downtown in Lisbon

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782),
the 1st Marquis of Pombal

Portuguese people speak Portuguese

I am starting this blog aimed at telling the English-speaking community about bits of Portugal.

If there is one thing that characterises the Portuguese people quite well amongst their Old World counterparts, it is how their language unites them.

Virtually every single Portuguese citizen speaks Portuguese as their native tongue, with their parents, families, friends, when shopping, teaching, etc.

A few european countries have several mainstream national languages more or less evenly split, such as Belgium (with Flemish and French) or Switzerland (with German, French and Italian).

Almost every other European nation has one mainstream and officially recognised language natively spoken by the majority but also significant minorities natively speaking other languages. This is the case for Spain (Basque, Catalan and Galician), Finland (Swedish), Estonia (Russian), France (Alsatian, Arabic and Occitan), Romania (Hungarian), Germany (Turkish), UK (Scots, Gaelic, Welsh), and most others.

This is caused by the fact that historical geo-political events that define borders are out of sync with language evolution (e.g., Basque in Spain or Russian in Estonia) or due to immigration (e.g., Arabic in France).

So, the fact that the Portuguese language is virtually universal in Portugal arises from 2 facts:
-the Portuguese border is one of the oldest in Europe and the world
-most immigrants in Portugal come from Portuguese-speaking countries, and immigrants from non-Portuguese-speaking countries are very few and generally spread out

Although immigration from non-Portuguese-speaking countries is an increasing trend that may change the universal character of Portuguese in Portugal, the global reach of centralised media such as TV and music has actually been eroding local accents.

I leave you one of my favourite songs in Portuguese from 2008.