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Brazil has made remarkable social gains over the past decade and a half. Millions of families have been lifted from extreme poverty, and access to education and health has improved thanks to a series of well-targeted social interventions, such as Bolsa Familia, the conditional cash transfer program. I was privileged to see some of this tangible progress during my visit to Brazil last week.
I met with Tereza Campello, Brazil’s Minister for Social Development, who explained the network of social programs in the country, and guided us on a visit to Complexo do Alemão—a neighborhood and a group of favelas in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. We got there after a ride on the recently built cable car, which links several neighborhoods on the hills to the North Zone. This is a great example of infrastructure that has contributed immensely to improving the economic opportunities of people, who now have a quick way to move around and connect to the larger city. The stations themselves are also focal points of the efforts aimed at improving the daily lives of the people of Rio de Janeiro, since they house important services such as the youth center, a social assistance center, a public library, a training center for micro-entrepreneurs, and even a small branch of the bank that distributes the Bolsa Familia monthly grants.
Since the early 2000s, Brazil’s economy has grown at a robust clip, with growth in 2010 reaching 7.5 percent—its strongest in a quarter of a century. A key pillar of its hard-won economic success has been sound economic policies and the adoption of far-reaching social programs, which resulted in a substantial decline in poverty.
In the last couple of years Brazil’s growth slowed down. Although other emerging market economies experienced a similar slowdown, the growth outturns in Brazil were particularly disappointing. And the measures taken to stimulate the economy did not produce a sustained recovery. This is because unleashing sustained growth in Brazil requires measures geared not at stimulating domestic demand but at changing the composition of demand towards investment and at increasing productivity.
We quantify the spillovers from Brazil to other countries in South America. The results confirm that Brazil has a significant influence on Southern Cone countries, particularly on Mercosur partners (Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay), but not on the Andean economies. For the Southern Cone countries, spillovers from Brazil can take two forms: the transmission of shocks originating in Brazil and the amplification (through Brazil) of global shocks. These two factors explain an important share of the fluctuations in economy activity in the Southern Cone countries.
Vivian Malta is an economist in the Strategy, Policy and Review Department, where she has been working on analytical projects that tackle, at the same time, macroeconomic and inequality issues. Prior to joining the Fund, she worked as an economist at the World Bank’s office in Brazil, analyzing the economic outlook for that country, with more focus on fiscal policies. Vivian has also spent two years working in the financial industry as a macroeconomics researcher. She holds a Ph.D. in economics from FGV-EPGE and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from PUC-Rio (both in Brazil). During her graduate studies she spent a year at Columbia University in the City of New York and at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a visiting scholar.