Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thoughts on Brazil's development model - shared in public

It was a flying visit back to London at the weekend for the Latin America 2011 conference.  This is an annual event organised by the various solidarity groups and bringing together activists and academics.  I had been invited to present on the Brazil panel, along with Joaobe Cavalcanti (an Anglican priest based in London who is also the Workers Party representative) and Francisco Dominguez of Middlesex University.

I was invited through my involvement with the LSE Ideas Centre and the conference I presented at back in July.  I guess they didn’t realise at the time what making an invitation to me would mean.  But I didn’t feel I could say no: I’ve never been invited to present at a conference before and it’s good to keep my foot in the door on Latin America-related activity, including in the UK.  There was also the matter of the launch for the Right Wing Politics in the New Latin America book, which I contributed a chapter on (it now seems so long ago – the paper I presented at the Society of Latin American Studies conference in Leeds in April 2009 which was the genesis for the chapter and finally sending it to Steve Ludlam, one of the editors, back in July last year).

In the end Francisco was ill, so it was just Joaobe and I who presented 10 minutes each to a reasonably large audience of 25 people.  Joaobe made a presentation which was generally quite positive, as I had anticipated (he was good enough to send me the text before the night before).  However, it was critical in places, which made it easier for me to then move into what I hoped was a more critical reflection on the state of the current development model in Brazil.  I noted the fact that Brazil’s current economic position is largely due to export growth in the commodity sector, helped by the country’s relatively low base in the early 2000s, following the 1999 devaluation and the lack of other options owing to the government’s commitment to the Real Plan criteria of low inflation targets and tight fiscal and monetary policies.  At the same time, I said that while a number of observers have seen the government’s investment in the Accelerated Growth Programme (PAC) initiated in 2007 as Brazil’s saving grace in the 2008-09 financial crisis (when other governments were cutting public spending), it’s questionable whether it made much difference to Brazil’s overall economic growth figures.

At the same time – and following Francisco’s suggestion last month – I had removed more obtuse references (i.e. those to ‘dependency theory’ and ‘hindered accumulation’).  I was glad I did, as Francisco’s characterisation of the audience as informed but not expert was apparent.

Ultimately, I made the argument that Brazil’s current development model remains largely laissez faire and unsustainable, advantaging big business and the middle classes over the poor and unorganised (along with a potential future risk from growing consumer debt).

The Q&A which followed was lively with all manner of questions being raised.  A number of them related to environmental issues, which isn’t my topic, so Joaobe took a number of those while I countered on those relating to foreign policy, the media and the deep sea oil reserves.

All in all, a relatively comfortable ride.  And I quite enjoyed it.  I should do more of this sort of thing!  I’m now also wondering whether there’s enough in the earlier draft of the presentation (around 3000 words compared to the conference’s 1000 words – had to keep to 10 minutes!) to form the basis for a paper on the subject.  It would be an interesting alternative path to take.

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