Mariana Mota Prado, author of the IRIBA research on the Brazilian approach to anti-corruption wrote the following comment on the Brazilian elections for the University of Toronto law blog. It’s re-posted here with permission.
Last month, Brazil decided to re-elect its President, keeping Dilma Rousseff for another four years in power. The margin of victory was really small (51.6%). The wealthy regions (south and southeast) have largely favoured Dilma’s opponent, Aecio Neves, while the poorest regions (north and northeast) have strongly supported Dilma.
While the elections clearly show a divided country, those who have followed the debates and scrutinised the policy proposals know that the results reflect more than a division based on income levels. The outcome of this election shows a country divided over two very different development projects.
Before the Worker’s Party (PT) came to power with Lula in 2002, the country was ruled by the Social Democrats for eight years. During this time, the Social Democrats (PSDB) created a much-needed stabilisation plan to fight inflation (which had reached 1,000% annually in the early 1990s). However, they also adopted a plan to reduce the size of the state through privatisation, while at the same time creating strong institutions that could support private investments (such as independent regulatory agencies). According to the social democrats, fiscal responsibility, a small state and strong institutions would create the conditions for the private sector to act as engine of growth. In sum, from 1998 to 2002 Brazil has followed an economic agenda very much in tune with the Washington Consensus.
In 2002, the Worker’s Party came to power with the intention to keep the strong pillars that secured macroeconomic stability. However, the Party also came with a plan to increase redistribution and reduce poverty. The results achieved were so impressive that the ambitious anti-poverty programme implemented in Brazil was touted by the World Bank as a model to be followed by other countries. Alongside its redistributive programmes, the Worker’s Party has also strengthened and increased the state’s presence in the economy. This has been accompanied by an increased role for the Brazilian Development Bank, and a number of informal institutional changes that have undermined the institutional make-up of the previous model. The independence of the Central Bank is a topic that gained a surprising and unexpected prominence during the campaign. Along the same lines, the independence of regulatory agencies for infrastructure sectors has also been a concern, but one been confined to a more specialised audience.
The candidates also had opposing views on foreign policy, which were also in line with their views of domestic policies. As one blogger described: “Rousseff’s vision is clearly represented by the BRICS model, which constitutes a multipolar challenge by the some of the world’s biggest economies to the hegemony of the United States.” In contrast, according to The Economist: “Mr Neves would seek closer ties with developed countries (a main source of technology and markets for Brazil’s manufactures) without abandoning Asia or Africa. In South America, he’d “de-ideologise” policy, rather than team up with Venezuela, Argentina and Cuba.” In sum, not only were the candidates not seeing eye-to-eye on economic policy, but their differences in the domestic sphere echoed into their thoughts about how Brazil was supposed to relate to the rest of the world.
Brazilian citizens were utterly divided between these two options and for a good reason. The proposals presented to Brazilians during this electoral process are not only very different but represent models of development grounded in irreconcilable premises. On the one hand, liberal (and neoliberal) economists have developed strong arguments on the importance of institutions and the private sector to promote development (combined with free trade and foreign direct investment). This is the model supported by the Social Democrats. On the other hand, there are those who support greater state intervention and a higher degree of protectionism. Such policies have strong roots in Latin America, dating back to the creation of the ECLAC, which was based on structuralist thinking. Today, such views are articulated and strongly supported by prominent scholars, such as Ha-Joon Chang. The influence of this school of thought over the Worker’s Party agenda is undeniable.
So, the decision forced upon Brazilians was a choice between two radically different development models. Considering that this topic has generated fierce debates among development experts for decades, it does not come as a surprise that Brazilians were also divided over the choices. There is no conclusive empirical evidence supporting one model or another. As Brazilian voters had very little information to determine where each of these models would take them, they decided to turn to the past in search of guidance. By and large, the poor have chosen the development model that has mostly favoured them in the last 12 years. The wealthy, in turn, have favoured the model that promised higher rates of growth, which is what has benefitted them most in the past. While the results may be a victory for lower classes and for those concerned with poverty and inequality, they have not reduced the country’s anxieties about its future. The redistributive and interventionist model won in the ballots, but only time will shows if this was indeed the right path for the country in the long term.