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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

POLITICAL ECONOMY: BRAZIL


ANTHONY PETER SPANAKOS, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Touro College, and Adjunct Professor, Brooklyn College

IN THE 1980S AND EARLY 1990S, fiscal deficits and high inflation contributed to Brazil's slow growth. This mediocre economic performance convinced liberal policymakers and the consensus that state-led growth strategies had not been successful. By President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's second term (1999–2003), inflation was largely under control, but growth continued to lag. Thus, critiques of liberalism were ubiquitous and proposals for the return of state intervention were put forth. Four years of the Lula da Silva government has not dampened the hopes that a strategy with greater state involvement will emerge, though growth continues to be weak.

The books and articles reviewed in this section deal primarily with issues of economic policy and policy-making. An inordinate amount of work published in Brazil continues to pursue a facile, atheoretical critique of a radical liberal agenda that never actually existed in Brazil. A slightly more reasonable approach compares cartoon versions of "liberal" and "statist" plans, and then proposes the same ECLA-inspired line that has dominated Brazilian social science discussions of economic policy for years, even though it has become increasingly alienated from policy-making itself. Some of the more solid and theoretically sound works are highlighted in this review.

The search for an "alternative" model dominates the works that appeared in the last years of the Cardoso administration and the first years of the Lula government. Brazilian social science research is far more concerned with policy description and prescription than testing theoretical models. As a result, most critiques of "neoliberalism" speak of an agenda and propose general principles, rather than explain how a transition to this alternative model would occur and why it would produce an increase in growth without a significant cost in terms of inflation, investment, and ability to capture credit, among other things. One of the better critiques of policy-making under President Cardoso is found in Rocha (item #bi2003006921#). Based in Celso Furtado's developmental approach, she critiques the external dependency and vulnerability of the neoliberal model.

By 2002, economists had come to a remarkable consensus about the problems the Brazilian economy faced, though diverse solutions were proposed. In Bielschowsky and Mussi, the robustness of the economic consensus is demonstrated in a lengthy review essay before major public intellectuals discuss major macroeconomic themes (item #bi2006003626#). Similarly, the Fórum Nacional, as it so often does, sets the agenda for discussions of economic policy (item #bi2006003640#). The contributors' emphasis on the need to increase exports and to improve the current account shows that these are priorities among policymakers of all partisan stripes. The contributors to Foro Nacional continue to be remarkably influential and have played a considerable role in Lula's policy choices, which have been scrutinized by academics. For example, Corazza and Ferrari challenge the idea that the Lula government "had no choice" but to continue the policies of its predecessors and they outline an alternative set of proposals along post-Keynesian lines (item #bi2005002629#). Along the same lines, Gonçalves argues that there are two types of change, one incremental and one historic, and that, although many had wanted broader, more historic policy changes from the Lula government, they would be getting more piecemeal reforms (item #bi2004001642#).

A number of other works touch on the issue of alternatives to government policies. Although the majority of these are rather superficial, an interesting literature is being developed to explore alternative ways of understanding economics. The Ladislau and Kilsztajn volume defines, quantifies, and defends the idea of a social economy (item #bi2006001053#). These essays are not only academically well designed, but they also offer very interesting frameworks for comparative work. Also noteworthy is the Instituto de Política's volume on progressive politics (item #bi2006003616#). These works are exactly the kind of empirical work that should be referenced to fill out the rhetorical critiques of liberal economics.

Reviewed here are also some innovative articles that integrate academic theorizing and models into current debates. Fonseca (item #bi2005002397#) and Faria (item #bi2004000423#) investigate concepts of credibility and the Mundell-Fleming model in Brazil, respectively. Bevilaqua and Garcia explain how debt crisis accounts fail to sufficiently recognize the home bias of Brazilian capital and the relative strength of its financial system (item #bi2003006745#). Bacha offers an interesting argument for why parties of the left should get better results from structural reforms than parties of the right (item #bi2005004655#). Early evaluations of Lula's first term confirm Bacha's disappointment, but the policy shift in Lula's second term might produce the potential results envisioned by those who elected him.

Three works examining policy-making deserve special notice. Pinheiro, Bonelli, and Schneider argue that the Brazilian reform process was guided by pragmatism, and not ideological, programmatic, or technocratic design (item #bi2004003131#). This notion has immediate relevance for comparative analysis of policy reform in Latin America and elsewhere. Sola, Kugelmas, and Whitehead challenge dominant institutionalist arguments favoring policymaker autonomy and praise the role of politics and negotiations in their comparative study of the Brazilian Banco Central (item #bi2006001080#). Kingstone analyzes the cases of privatization of Telebras as a way to identify the strengths and weaknesses of opposing approaches to reforming Brazilian institutions (item #bi2006001556#).

Finally, two works of "classic" thinkers are presented. Former military government intellectual mastermind Golbery's classic work and some newly released speeches offer an interesting perspective on the concept of security used during both democratic and dictatorial governments (item #bi2006001070#). Lastly, a collected work of the popular writings of Mário Henrique Simonsen, a renowned Brazilian economist, is excellent (item #bi2006001078#). Readers will marvel at his critiques of Brazilian economic policy decisions in the 1980s and will wonder what would have happened had the politicians heeded his warnings.


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