Brazilian Economy

An Economy Recovering From Chaos.
Brazil
earned the reputation of being a "miracle economy" in the late 1960s when
double-digit annual growth rates were recorded and the structure of the economy
underwent rapid change. Since 1981, however, Brazil’s economic performance has
been poor in comparison to its potential. The country’s dramatic reduction in
output growth, which averaged an annual GDP growth of only 1.5 percent over

1980-93, reflected its inability to respond to the events of the late 1970s and

1980s. Some events that took place during this period were: the oil shock,
increases in real interest rates, the debt crisis, and the resulting cutoff of
foreign credit and foreign direct investment. These shocks, in combination with
poor management of public finances and heavy state intervention, resulted in
large fiscal deficits at state and federal levels. Even if the fiscal deficits
were reduced after 1990, deviating policies generalized indexation, and exchange
rate management contributed to keeping inflation high and increasing. Monthly
inflation skyrocketed from 3 percent in the late 1970s to 50 percent in
mid-1994. The country’s income distribution, already poor, worsened
drastically in the 1980s. Against these conditions, the success of the Real

Stabilization Plan in effect since mid-1994, which has reduced inflation to an
annualized rate of about 15 percent, stand out noticeably. Growth rates were
satisfactory in 1994 and 1995 at 5.8 and 4.2 percent, respectively (Page 45-47).

From Portugal’s discovery in 1500 until the late 1930s, the economy relied on
the production of primary products, such as sugar cane for exports. Portugal
subjected it to a strict enforced colonial pact, or imperial mercantile policy,
which for three centuries heavily restricted development. The colonial phase
left strong marks on the country’s economy and society, lasting long after
independence in 1882. Significant changes began occurring only late in the
eighteenth century, when slavery was eliminated and wage labor was adopted.

Important structural transformations began only in the 1930s, when the first
steps were taken to change it into a modern, semi-industrialized economy. These
transformations were particularly strong between 1950 and 1981, when the growth
rates of the economy remained quite high and a diversified manufacturing base
was established. However, since the early 1980s, the economy has experienced
substantial difficulties, including slow growth and stagnation. Nevertheless,
the country still has the potential to regain its former dynamism. In the
mid-1990s, it had a large and quite diversified economy, but one with
considerable structural, as well as short-term problems. Socioeconomic
transformations came about rapidly after World War II. In the 1940s, only 31.3
percent of its 41.2 million inhabitants resided in towns and cities. By 1991 its
population had reached 146.9 million and 75.5 percent lived in cities, therefore
creating two of the world’s largest metropolitan centers – Sao Paulo and Rio
de Janeiro. The rate of population growth decreased for about 3 percent annually
in the transition. By mid-1999 it had an estimated population of 166 million
(Levine 200). The share of its primary sector in the gross national product
declined from 28 percent in 1947 to 11 percent in 1992. Despite this reduction,
the agricultural sector remains important. Although part of it is primitive and
demanding, part is modern and vigorous. Brazil remains one of the world’s
largest exporters of agricultural products. In the same 1947-92 period, the
contribution of industry to GNP increased from less than 20 percent to 39
percent. Its GNP per capita in 1999 was of $4,750 per year. The industrial
sector produces a wide range of products for the domestic market and for export,
including consumer goods, intermediate goods, and capital goods. By the early

1990s, it was producing about 1 million motor vehicles annually and about 32,000
units of motor-driven farming machines. On an annual basis, it was also
producing 1.8 million tons of fertilizers, 4.7 million tons of cardboard and
paper, 20 million tons of steel, 26 million tons of cement, 3.5 million
television sets, and 3 million refrigerators. In addition, about 70 million
cubic meters of petroleum were being processed yearly into fuels, lubricants,
propane gas, and a wide range of petrochemicals. Besides, Brazil has at least

161,500 kilometers of paved roads and more 63 million megawatts of installed
electric power capacity (Becker 88-90). Even with these figures, the economy
cannot be considered developed. While the economic changes since 1947 raised the
country’s per capita income above US$2,000 in 1980, per capita income in 1995
was still only US$4,630. Growth and structural change have not altered
significantly the country’s extreme unequal distribution of wealth, income,
and opportunity. Regardless of impressive rise in economic growth and output,
the number of poor has increased sharply.