World Economy

Brazil’s Unstable Equilibrium

Brazil’s Unstable EquilibriumBrazil’s Unstable Equilibrium

As the political situation in Brazil appears to be reaching a state of unstable equilibrium, or more bluntly, as it is transformed from instability to impasse, the economy continues to deteriorate.

The sharpening of political conflicts that could lead to an outright collapse of the economy seems to have been attenuated by the shift on April 7 of effective political power from President Dilma Rousseff to Vice-President Michel Temer, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho wrote for IPS.

Temer was successful in bringing Renan Calheiros, the chairman of the Federal Senate, back to the government camp, in a power-sharing agreement meant to isolate the chairman of the House, Eduardo Cunha, who has assumed a much more radical stance. The arrangement has worked so far.

The pressure on the president to resign or on the appropriate bodies to give cause to initiate impeachment processes seems to have reached its limit. Popular opposition to the federal administration, which has its stronghold in Sao Paulo–as shown in mass demonstrations in March and April and most recently on Aug. 16–has not seen the snowball growth its leaders expected.

 Bad and Worse

As expected, the Brazilian economy continues to deteriorate. The contractionary impact of fiscal retrenchment has been greater than anticipated because not many people can foresee what will come next. In fact, no one can, even if announced measures will in fact be implemented while current difficulties, including fiscal difficulties, grow further.

The federal government was not able to pass the contractionary measures it argued to be essential, thus creating a ‘Catch 22’ situation in which one expects the success of the government to be very bad for the country but its failure to be even worse. Many economists are predicting a fall in 2015 GDP close to 2%, postponing chances of recovery until at least 2017.

If this contraction actually happens, it will be one the most serious recessions in recent history, much worse than what happened in 2008 and 2009.

Of course, this excuse only goes so far. Many analysts had called the attention of government authorities to the fact that growth during President Lula da Silva’s two terms in office (2003-2011) would vanish in the event that China lost its breath, as has actually happened.

The country lost the opportunity to make the investments, particularly in infrastructure, which could have increased its productive capacity. Efficient industrial policies should have been consistently implemented to that end, public investment should have been expanded, and consistent exchange rate policies should have been sought to change the picture of overvaluation that has been killing local manufacturing, on and off, since the Real Plan was implemented in 1994.

Practically nothing of this was effectively done. Investment plans were announced that had no consequence, local manufacturers became importers on an increasing scale, and roads, ports and energy production fell behind needs, while the government presented policies to increase household indebtedness to expand consumption as a successful combination of economic and social policies.

 Distribution of Favors

In the last two years of Rousseff’s first term (2011-2014), these policies were not even successful in increasing growth rates and GDP stalled as the government appealed more and more to tricks, particularly accounting tricks, and the distribution of favors to politically-connected sectors to try to revive the economy.

To a large extent, the turn to austerity was motivated by the failure to revive the economy, which doubled the bet on mistaken policies. Austerity measures in a shrinking economy can only accelerate the fall. But the dissolution of the political power of the president tripled the bet.

No one can believe that the president has the power to effectively pursue an alternative policy path. In fact, if the alternative to austerity is going back to what she did in her first term, the president will not find any supporters, except, perhaps, in her fast-shrinking number of hard-core believers.