Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

New Directions for a More Prosperous Brazil

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

New Directions for a More Prosperous Brazil

Article excerpt

This article examines whether increasing global confidence in Brazil is well founded and, if so, what the implications might be for the global community. Landmark political, economic, and social achievements in contemporary Brazil are reviewed as well as the obstacles to raise human welfare to developed country standards within the next decade. The paper concludes that Brazil's growing influence in the global community is based on sound empirical evidence, a diverse economy, and an emerging society; it is not the result of passing good fortune. At the same time, the crushing legacy of past problems in areas that are vital to human welfare, including the education system and deficiencies in innovation and technological advance, continues to weigh heavily. Depending on how well its leadership deals with the legacy of the past, Brazil could become a more important actor in the international community over the next ten years. Brazil's rising use of "soft power" will contribute to addressing global issues such as clean forms of energy, sustainability, food security, and social inclusion. Even for this possibility alone, Brazil merits much closer attention from a global community not yet fully aware of Brazil's transformation.

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Reductions in poverty and a movement toward greater income equality are e most exciting and important developments in Latin America today. (1) This process, which is gradual and subject to reversal, can eventually transform Latin American society and the region's role in global affairs. In many respects, Brazil has been emblematic of the emergence of a new, more inclusive, and more socially mobile Latin America, winning praise for the strength of its vibrant democracy, the consistency of its economic management, and the effectiveness of its social policies. (2) Brazil's vision of itself as the dominant country in Latin America, a leader of the global South, and an important partner for the United States--and the West in general--now seems more within its grasp than at any other moment in its history.

Brazil's peaceful rise might evoke criticism from skeptics who would attribute it to a short-term rise in commodity prices caused by demand from China. How can it be, critics might well ask, that a country so dependent on natural resource wealth like Brazil, and so beset by problems of inequality, infrastructure, and education is experiencing anything other than a blip in the age-old Brazilian pattern of boom and bust? In order to understand where Brazil is today and where it is headed, one first needs to construct a framework based upon the fundamental changes in the economy, society, and politics that have occurred over the last three decades. This essay is an attempt to do so and to draw upon the implications for a global community likely to be puzzled by what to make of this new Brazil.

ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION

While the economy of Brazil has lagged behind China in terms of economic growth in the last thirty years, Brazil started from a higher base of development than China and has developed an impressive economy (seventh largest in the world) and a much more diverse economic structure than it once had. The most noteworthy structural development is the growth of a competitive agribusiness sector. Spurred by advances in agricultural research, especially soybean production in semi-arid areas, Brazil's center-west region, sparsely inhabited thirty-five years ago, is today the engine room of a global powerhouse in agricultural exports. (3)

The emergence of agriculture complements a more established industrial sector that has become much less protected over the last several decades, more receptive to foreign investment and technology, and more sophisticated technologically. (4) While difficult to quantify, entrepreneurial resources appear to abound in Brazil to a greater extent than in other Latin American economies. These resources seem to have found plenty of outlets in the last thirty years. …

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