Brazil’s Next Steps
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
After a decade of fast growth and rising incomes, Brazil has hit a rough patch that is testing its government’s ability to manage the economy and satisfy the growing aspirations of its people. President Dilma Rousseff, who faces elections next year, needs to push through policy reforms and public investment projects to revive growth and bring inflation under control.
Last year, Brazil’s economy grew only 0.9 percent because private investment slowed down. Analysts expect the growth rate to recover to 2.5 percent this year, but that is still far slower than the 7.5 percent the country achieved in 2010.
In June, tens of thousands of people joined street protests that were prompted by an increase in public-transit fares but quickly became a way for Brazilians to air broader grievances about the rising cost of living, weak infrastructure, political corruption and government spending on big sporting events like the 2014 World Cup. In response to the protests, Ms. Rousseff said she would push for political reforms and investments in infrastructure, but her government has not yet delivered on those promises.
Brazil has made impressive gains under Ms. Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Programs like Bolsa Familia, which provides cash to families if they immunize their children and send them to school, have bolstered incomes of the poor and improved their health. About 8 percent of Brazilians lived on less than $2 a day last year, down from 20 percent 10 years earlier. Infant mortality has fallen by nearly 50 percent.
But while the incomes of the country’s poorest citizens have grown faster than those of its richest in recent years, income inequality remains high. And inflation, which erodes rising incomes, is taking a big toll on the poorest Brazilians. The country’s inflation rate was 6.09 percent in August, according to the central bank, which has raised interest rates several times this year.
People living in cities like São Paulo pay more for food, housing and other basic goods than people in other comparable countries. A big reason for the high prices is that the government has not built enough roads, railways, ports and other infrastructure to keep up with the economy’s growth. Brazil also imposes high import duties and taxes that inflate the price of many goods and services.
The country also needs to reform its education system, which does a poor job preparing young people for skilled jobs in the manufacturing and the service sector. In an international test of the reading, math and science skills of 15-year-olds, Brazilian students scored lower than their counterparts in other Latin American countries like Uruguay, Mexico and Colombia.
Brazil has such chronic shortages of skilled professionals that the government is planning to import doctors from other countries. That might be a fine temporary solution, but the government needs to build more universities and improve teaching in primary and secondary schools to make sure more students can pursue higher education.
The nation has seen social advancements in a short time, and now its citizens expect more from their leaders.
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