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Archive for November, 2011

More details on the functioning of Bolsa Familia

The Impact of Conditional Cash Transfers on Health Status: The Brazilian Bolsa Familia Programme

“Conditional cash transfers are becoming the standard approach to reducing poverty levels; the Brazilian Bosa Familia Grogram, in particular, is the largest programo fo this kind, and the evaluation of its impact allows for drawing some interesting conclusions, which may apply to other countires.  IN this paper, the lack of positve resutls in terms of both health status and modification of unhealthy habits is underlined.  Among idfferent causes, which are discussed, ehre thexistence of barriers on the supply side appears tas the most important limiation for obtaining better results.  The positive impact of this program on both educatino and poverty reduction however, allows for predicting improvements in health status in the long run.” –Castineria, Nunes and Rungo

This article is extraordinarily informative, outlining the functioning of the system (requirements and benefits), exploring the contrasting results in poverty and eduction vs. health, and finally discussing possible explanations.

Full text here: 


My notes here: Notes on Castineria

Bolsa Familia from a human rights perspective

“The Family Grant has become one of the major programs for reducing hunger in Brazil; for a significant number of poor families, the benefits of this Program are the only possible source of income.  From the human rights perspective, however, this Program still presents a series of obstacles, which are reviewed in this essay.” –Zimmermann

Full text here:  http://bdjur.stj.gov.br/xmlui/handle/2011/22529

For my notes on the article, click here: My notes on Zimmermann

Cops Occupy Huge Rio Slum In Drug Crackdown

Rocinha Favela, is one of the largest slums of Rio it is home to 100,000 people. . Rocinha overlooks some of Rio’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Sunday the 13th of November the slum was occupied by police and soldiers. Not a single shot was fired as police and soldiers accompanied by helicopters and tanks marched into Rocinha  The location of Rocinha next to a wealthy area suggests that “it is believed to be one of Rio’s most lucrative and largest drug distribution points”. Many of the slums that have been occupied are in slums next to wealthy areas, this suggests that the Brazilian government is aiming its initiatives at improving property next to the neighborhoods and getting ready for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.



Some notes on Brazil’s foreign policy

“Brazil as an intermediate state and regional power: action, choice and responsibilities”

This article primarily speaks about Brazil’s foreign policy however the focus on a developmentalist agenda mirrors many of the efforts I will discuss in the Bolsa Familia program.

 Brazil has attempted to link an increasingly activist stance in world affairs with political support at home for a more active partisan involvement in foreign policy. In this context, the government’s fight against poverty and unequal income distribution at home and its assertive and activist foreign policy can be viewed as two sides of the same coin.

– foreign policy has always had a strong developmentalist component

– history of commitment to multilateralism

– 1930’s: crisis of agro-exporting model, replaced by ISI (relatively successful: central role for state in regulation, provision of incentives and production; relative discrimination against important; large-scale participation of FDI in wide range of industrial sector), and then again in the 1990s by a model of competitive integration into global economy (23)

– with this transition into the global economy, foreign policy shifts from just autonomous to “autonomy through participation” as Brazil participates fully in a variety of international regimes

– foreign policy includes “active development policy”, “ collaboration with countries of similar interests”, and “the need to articulate a national project focused on overcoming domestic social imbalances”

– Brazil often a mediator in the past between great powers and smaller nations – defending rights of the later while positioning itself to assume the position of the former

– in 1970s, Brazil tries to delay or block trade negotiations unfavorable to developing nations

– UN reform agenda according to Brazil should include: reinforcement of multilateral principles and norms, a reestablishment of conceptual frontier between peacekeeping and peace enforcement, reformulation of decision-making structure of UN security council

– up to mid 1990s, Brazil focused on regional integration and common market (Mercosur); deepening trade and cooperation in infrastructure projects

– now Brazil’s identity as Latin American country shifting to become South American power

– Lula furthered Brazil’s South American leadership, some question this ‘parallel diplomacy’

– hope that Lula’s furthering of Brazil’s democracy would have positive spillover effect in promoting regional political stability; also hope that Brazil’s increased regional presence will help it further its global aspirations

– Brazil’s relations with US primarily aimed at  “prudent coexistence, possible collaboration and minimal collision” (33) – Brazil’s foreign policy decisions involve consideration of costs and benefits of convergence or divergence from US

– 2003 IBSA Forum (with India and South Africa) which was formed around three shared interests: commitment to democratic institutions and values, effort to link struggle against poverty to development policies and the need to strengthen multilateral institutions and procedures in order to deal with security issues and political and economic turbulence

– danger of multilateralism is that Brazil must assume consequences of collective action

– almost half of the region’s GNP is of Brazilian origin and its exports account for more that 40% of the total exports of the region; Brazil’s trade pattern is more diversified that other Latin American countries

– however Brazil falls behind Argentina, Chile and Latin American and the Caribbean as a whole in terms of HDI Rank (at the time of publication – see earlier blog post as to current stats)

– if take into account GINI index (which measures level of inequality in income distribution), Brazil drops dramatically ***include graphs of this in paper

– idea that domestic efforts could spur a “virtuous path of democratic consolidation, sustained economic growth and social inclusion”


Full text available here: http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/International%20Affairs/Blanket%20File%20Import/inta_513.pdf


Economic orthodoxy + social spending = success??

This past Thursday, I attended the Bildner Center lecture “China’s Engagement with Latin America: A US Policy Perspective.”  Daniel Erikson (Senior Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, US Department of State) commented on how Brazil is benefitting from a boom in commodity exports, specifically soy and steel, due to the demand from China’s booming market.  This is interesting because in part, it suggests a return to the export led growth model which dominated Latin American economic policy before 1930.  However without the use of countercyclical measures during booms (recall this growth model was known for the boom-bust cycle), Brazil remains vulnerable to demand shocks in China’s market.  Erikson stated that all analyses suggest China’s growth will continue in an upward trend for the foreseeable future, however I am skeptical that it can remain this way forever (“doomsday will eventually come,” as Mauricio Font commented).  While I hope Brazil can benefit from China’s market in the meantime, I worry about the series of events so often seen in Latin American history: growth via dependence on a small number of primary good exports, a negative demand shock for these goods leading to a collapse in the exporting economy, increased yet unsustainable government spending financed through the printing of money resulting in large debts, inflation, and typically, austerity programs imposed by the IMF.

This brings up an important point I’ve noticed in reading about economic and social policy.  Economic growth, unaccompanied with social programs, produces inequality.  As Max Fraad-Wolf explained in a lecture at The New School on poverty and human rights (10/27/2011), “ Capitalism successfully produces wealth just as efficiently as it produces poverty.”  This is because competition under a capitalist system means one person’s advancement is due to someone else’s decline (a zero sum game) and the market mechanism allots more to those that have lots and little to those who have little (purchasing power).  However, social spending can not be done in a sustainable manner, one that is not inflationary and debt-producing, without economic growth.  It should also be noted that although austerity programs/economic orthodoxy can be successful in stabilizing economies, it is uncommon to witness substantial economic growth during these periods.  Thus it seems there is a fine line to walk in balancing economic growth and social spending.

On a side note, Santiso suggests such social spending, or redistributive policies as he refers to them, may be fundamental in maintaining democracy in Latin America.  He cites that “the probability of the ‘death’ of democracies was one in twelve in countries with per-capital income below $1,000 and one in 60 cases of per-capital income exceeding $6,000…beyond which the possibilities of the survival of democracy are greater, going up when the differences in income are narrower” (135, Lula Light).  Santiso suggests that it is the combination of fiscal austerity, tight monetary policy and social activism (and absence of ideological purism) that made Lula such a successful president of Brazil (Ch. 5, Lula Light).