English version of social science textbook published as Paths of Inequality in Brazil | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

This book presents the first major overview of the changes undergone by Brazilian society in the last 50 years. The conclusions have been updated to take into account the international debate on democratic transitions as well as the ongoing Brazilian economic crisis

English version of social science textbook published as Paths of Inequality in Brazil

August 15, 2018

By José Tadeu Arantes  |  Agência FAPESP – The textbook Paths of Inequality in Brazil: a Half-Century of Changes has just been published with FAPESP’s support. Originally issued in 2015 in Portuguese as Trajetórias das desigualdades: como o Brasil mudou nos últimos 50 anos, the book is the first major overview of the changes undergone by Brazil in the last 50 years. 

The editor is Marta Arretche, Full Professor in the Political Science Department of the University of São Paulo (USP) and head of the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM), one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) supported by FAPESP. The book is a compilation of essays by 23 researchers in economics, sociology, demography and politics. It is published by Springer and is available in print and as an e-book.

“In the English-language edition, the 14 chapters that deal with the various subthemes have been updated in response to comments by peer reviewers. The last chapter, which contains the conclusions, is entirely new,” Arretche told Agência FAPESP.

The rationale for the new content is twofold, said Arretche, who wrote the last chapter. First, the English-language edition is being published almost ten years after Brazil’s last census, which was conducted in 2010 and used as the main database for the book. Second, the new edition aims to take into account the key issues being discussed by social scientists internationally, whereas the original version in Portuguese focused mainly on the debate in Brazil. 

“Our analysis lets readers observe the Brazilian case in light of the international debate on the links between democratic transitions and inequality,” Arretche said. “The book features a clash on whether a successful democratic transition is possible in highly unequal countries, between on one hand Turkish-American economist Daron Acemoglu, Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and his coauthor James Robinson, and on the other hand Catalan political scientist Carles Boix, Professor of Politics & Public Affairs at Princeton University.”

Democratic transitions are possible but highly improbable in highly unequal countries, according to Boix, because the rich expect losses of income and property to be imposed by the poor under democracy. Acemoglu and Robinson, however, argue that a democratic transition can occur amid acute inequality but will proceed by fits and starts, so that the country oscillates in and out of democracy depending on the costs of maintaining the democratic order or breaking with it. 

“Brazil is an example of a country that was once highly unequal and successfully implemented an inclusive democratic transition,” Arretche said. “I don’t explore the debate about whether we’re now experiencing a sort of authoritarian relapse, which I find highly speculative. There is indeed an agenda to roll back social rights, but it hasn’t been as successful as it may seem at first glance. This is largely due to the popularity of social programs. The electoral cost of this rollback agenda is too high.

“The pension reform bill had to be whittled down considerably in order to pass Congress, and the labor law reform is explained by the fact that a minority of workers are actually protected by the CLT [Consolidação das Leis do Trabalho, as the Brazilian labor code is known]. When the unemployment rate is as high as it is now, voters just want a job, regardless of whether it’s a formal one protected by the labor laws. But the rollback agenda unquestionably exists, and it’s going to be center-stage in the years ahead, pitting pressure for fiscal adjustment and austerity against the popularity of social policies.” 

In any case, the positive portrait presented in the original edition of the book had to be revised in response to the profound multidimensional crisis affecting Brazil.

“In late 2016, when we delivered the English version for publication, the crisis was already unfolding in Brazil and couldn’t be ignored,” Arretche said. “So one issue we addressed was how far the system to protect the poorest segments of the population, built on the new democratic Constitution passed in 1988, may have acted as a shock absorber to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis. We concluded that it had. The economic crisis is currently manifested in the labor market. Unemployment is high and real wages are falling, but the income redistribution policies have stayed put and afford a certain amount of protection.”

Overall, however, the book takes a long-term view (as its title makes clear) and shows that the improvement in social indicators in Brazil has resulted from the “inclusion of outsiders”. 

Social policies of a conservative orientation, introduced in the mid-1930s under the first Vargas administration and preserved during the democratic interregnum between 1945 and 1964 and even during the civilian-military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985, underwent major changes in the 1990s and 2000s as a result of the new democratic Constitution passed in 1988. 

Brazil remained a highly unequal country, but substantial reductions in inequality took place in such dimensions as income, educational attainment, healthcare, access to basic services, and gender relations, according to the authors.

The conservative model “produced a great divide between insiders and outsiders, since it protected only those engaged in the formal labor market, in the context of a small urban industrial sector and high rates of unemployment [...]. In addition, not only were outsiders excluded from benefits, but they also contributed to the funding of such benefits. Under the import substitution model, the costs of social protection of insiders were transferred to product prices and thus paid by all consumers”, the book’s concluding chapter argues.

The conclusion also states that the “transition to democracy was geared toward the inclusion of outsiders. Nearly half of Brazilians who were once denied the right to healthcare and pension benefits as a result of their precarious engagement in the labor market are now entitled to such rights regardless of insurance contributions”.

According to the book, from the early 1990s, reductions in economic inequality were a byproduct of the inclusion of outsiders, a mechanism whereby access to different social benefits was incrementally uncoupled from income and social status, albeit at differing speeds.

More information about the book: springer.com/gb/book/9783319781839

 

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