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Volume 65 / Social Sciences

POLITICAL ECONOMY: BRAZIL


ANTHONY PETER SPANAKOS, Associate Professor, Montclair State University, and Assistant Adjunct Professor, New York University

THE ELECTION OF LUIS INÁCIO "LULA" DA SILVA to the presidency in 2002 received considerable attention within and outside of Brazil. Since then debate centering on political economy has been primarily concerned with either the relative virtues or problems with liberalism and/or state intervention, and with explaining whether Lula's economic policies in either or both of his governments (2002–2006, 2006–2010) can be considered "left," "progressive," or "alternatives to liberalism."

The relative dearth of other subjects being explored in published works is disappointing. Political economists are largely continuing somewhat tired discussions to the same audiences. Although most of the works reviewed here are interesting and good pieces of scholarship, few are written or will be read by partisans of "the other side." This is partially because their partisan perspective is clear and partially because they do not really extend beyond the tradition in which they are writing to examine opposing viewpoints. Instead of considering the most interesting puzzles in Political Science and Economics and rendering them in innovative ways, much of the political economy literature reviewed here relies on exploring issues through existing methodologies and, not surprisingly, coming to the same conclusions. This is not to say that the works below are unworthy of being read and challenged. Rather, one hopes that future works in the field will better create a more meaningful dialogue between this and new methodologies and conclusions.

There are two important new developments in the field. First, after many years of simply critiquing (being "pure opposition") neoliberalism, a tradition has developed of emphasizing not only social inclusion, but social networks in the construction of "alternatives" to liberalism. The second development is that there are more works studying problems of Brazilian political economy from a legitimately comparative lens.

Despite this, the most consistent theme in the works reviewed here is a generalized critique of neoliberalism and globalization. Dall'Acqua's dissertation (item #bi2007005089#) offers an interesting examination of globalization by looking at productive chains and clusters of participation. Carvalho, consistent with his earlier work, (item #bi2007001018#) returns to Keynes as a means of critiquing Brazil's policy of inflation-targeting, insisting that short-term interest rates affect long-term rates, and that monetary policy must focus on real, not nominal, issues. Souza et al. (item #bi2007005250#) is a collection of writings by Paul Singer's students on his contributions as a scholar activist. The work offers important insights into one of the most important economists of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), but it needs to be updated or re-evaluated on the basis of Singer's participation in the Lula government.

The most ideologically driven of the books proposing critiques of liberalism and globalization are those by Sader (item #bi2007005280#) and Petras and Veltmeyer (item #bi2007005259#). Sader's short missive against globalization recalls the glory days of state intervention and rapid economic growth and then touches off on World Social Forum issues and the landless movement in Brazil. Representing an even more radical critique of liberalism, Petras and Veltmeyer's Cardoso's Brazil: A Land for Sale attacks the Cardoso government as having worsened virtually every socioeconomic indicator in Brazil. These works should not be understood simply as academic critiques of liberalism, but also as efforts by the scholars involved to try to come to grips with the policy choices of the Lula government. Potential contradictions among the PT's economic policies are directly discussed in Tavares Soares (item #bi2007005286#). The volume focuses on various significant issues for the PT. A more critical approach to the same issue is De Paula Ed (item #bi2007005078#). Released shortly into Lula's first term, it contests policies of "continuismo," that is, continuing those of President Cardoso.

Cardoso's policies, and liberalism more generally, are not without their advocates. Pinheiro and Giambiagi et al. (item #bi2007005265#) and Giambiagi, Reis, and Urani (item #bi2007005269#) are apologists for liberalism, defending the need to maintain inflation targeting and a liberal trade profile. The low growth of the "liberal era" of the 1980s and 1990s was the result of inflation generated earlier and then low investment, not the general macroeconomic policies of the Cardoso government. Bacha and Bonelli (item #bi2007000052#) support this claim by showing that the cost of investment increased in Brazil due to declining credibility for the monetary authority and the subsequent increase in inflation.

This liberal structuralist debate is also found in works on economic history, such as items #bi2007005265# and #bi2007005068#. The two offer vastly differing views of the causes and constraints on economic growth in 20th century Brazil with the former defending liberal analysis and the latter critiquing it. Political scientists looking at economic history and recent reforms have offered fewer apologetic works and more mainstream scholarship. Kohli's (item #bi2007005075#) study of development in South Korea, India, Brazil, and Nigeria argues that state strategy was most effected when states were strong and nations cohesive. Benevides, Vannuchi, and Kerche (item #bi2007005279#) assess a broad range of reforms in Brazil, including state reform, while Editors Sola and Whitehead (item #bi2007001693#) evaluate the role of statesmanship and negotiation as Brazil democratized and reformed its economy. The essays in these books aim to address questions beyond Brazil through engaging theoretical work in the field, using Brazil as a case to advance their arguments. Their work constitutes an important and compelling area of scholarship.

Another such area is largely a spin-off of critiques of globalization. Over the course of the decade, literature in this camp has argued that an alternative to neoliberalism and globalization was possible and has now developed some of these alternative arrangements. Senator Suplicy's collection (item #bi2007005262#) is a good starting point as it is a rather introductory collection of essays and interviews. Sachs (item #bi2007005074#) begins with a relatively well rehearsed neostructural critique of liberalism and globalization, but uses this as a platform to argue on moral and empirical grounds that inclusion provides better growth patterns for Latin American countries. This literature is at its strongest when it offers case studies that aim to provide the foundations for the "alternative" project. Abramovay (item #bi2007005282#) is a strong collection of essays which show how various social arrangements exist within different spaces and how they can be used to combat poverty. Finally, Arraes, Barreto, and Teles argue on behalf of broadening the understanding of development to include social and institutional accounts (item #bi2007000237#).


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