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Mario Fortuna | January 2007
on Wednesday, 17/01/2007 — Luisa Figueiredo

Mario Fortuna

Name: Mario Fortuna
Year of Birth: 1956
Place of birth: Azores, Portugal
City of residence: Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal
Years in the US: 8 (1975-1983)
Personal webpage: www.deg.uac.pt/~fortuna
Undergraduate Degree: Economics (U. Mass. Dartmouth – SMU at the time - 1978)
Post-graduate Degree: Masters in Economics (Boston College -1981), PhD in Economics (Boston College - 1983)
Current professional status: Full professor – University of the Azores
Research interests: Public Economic Policy
Best career achievement: Full Professorship

To be or not to be an immigrant in the US
What brought you to the USA?
I went to the US in 1975, after finishing high school in Ponta Delgada. At the time the options were to go to Lisbon, to a higher education system in high post revolution turmoil, or to go to the US where I could stay with a brother. I opted to go to the US to do all my university work.
I was at the same time running away from a confusing setting and looking for the benefits of one of the best higher education systems in the world. Name the three most valuable lessons you have learned in this country (at work or not).
1. Serious work is the only way to progress. 2. Do not prevent others from accomplishing their projects. 3. Work makes excellence.

I can best express the feeling with the following phrase I heard recently from a former director of Disney World in Florida “It’s not magic that makes this place work, it's work that makes this place magic”. Basically, if you don’t sew you cannot harvest.


In 1983 you went back to the Azores. Why?
Because I thought I could help in some way promote the development of my birthplace and because I thought the perspectives for Portugal, with EU integration, were very good. So the work environment and the opportunities would be favourable.

What do you think Portugal is still better at?
Being in Portugal, the salary is not that fabulous but the system provides a lot of flexibility. This is good in the sense that you can do various things but is bad in that you end-up dispersing more than would be desirable in many instances. Aside from salary considerations and the work set-up, Portugal is a good place to be in Europe. The quality of life in the Azores is good, I have to admit. The weather is good, the food is good and the work environment is generally relaxed. There are many opportunities for those that are patient enough. Many frustrating moments for those that want to move fast. For someone who wants more time for himself this has been the right place to be.

What would you like to see changed in the Portuguese educational system?
Portugal needs to come to grips with the fact that the educational system is not a free good and that resources are scarce and should be considered in competing uses. So, education has to use resources efficiently like all other sectors of the economy. The educational system needs to be restructured to place incentives in the right place. As it is, there are too many vested interests managing it. Teachers and students end up intervening in a myriad of decisions of which they are the main beneficiaries, without significant outside auditing. In the end there is a wrong perception that the system is of very low cost for the internal stakeholders, leading to a wrong distribution of resources.

Merit is frequently not the criteria to determine who gets what. Productivity is, as such, low for students, for teachers, for researchers and for administrators. The system should be changed to reward achievement and avoid all redundancies in the use of scarce resources.


The daily life in the US

Favourite news from Portugal: Público; Diário de Notícias; Diário Ecomico; Açoriano Oriental; Canal1-notícias; Sic-Notícias;
Favourite Website/Blog: Msn.com opens many windows of information. It also helps me keep in contact with social changes in the US; Google.com opens other windows of information that I need.
Ideal weekend program in your city: In Ponta Delgada, in the Azores I can now take half of Saturday and Sunday to play golf. In the summer I also go snorkelling.
Portuguese neighbourhood in the cities where you lived:

In my first years in the US I lived in Fall River. This town is one of the main Portuguese communities in New England. Later I moved to Allston, which is close to the portuguese areas of Somerville and Cambridge. Even though there was no time to mingle with the Portuguese community it was nonetheless a comfort to know it was close by.