Marxist Wrecks Brazil Economy

(p. A6) “The Brazilian model celebrated just a few years ago is turning into a slow-motion train wreck,” said Mansueto Almeida, a prominent commentator on economic policy. “Our political leaders want to point fingers at China or some external villain, but they cannot escape the fact that this self-inflicted crisis was made in Brazil.”
Even with the country’s legacy of economic turmoil, some historians say that Ms. Rousseff’s track record on economic growth ranks among the worst of any Brazilian president’s over the last century.
. . .
Hoping to prevent Brazil from cooling too much after the sizzling boom of the previous decade, Ms. Rousseff, 67, a former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and took office in 2011, doubled down on bets that she could stave off a severe slowdown by harnessing a web of government-controlled banks and energy companies.
Ms. Rousseff pressured the central bank to reduce interest rates, fueling a credit spree among overstretched consumers who are now struggling to repay loans. She cut taxes for certain domestic industries and imposed price controls on gasoline and electricity, creating huge losses at public energy companies.
Going further, she expanded the sway of Brazil’s colossal national development bank, whose lending portfolio already dwarfed that of the World Bank. Drawing funds from the national treasury, the bank, known as the B.N.D.E.S., increased taxpayer-subsidized loans to large corporations at rates that were often significantly lower than those individuals could obtain from their banks.
Ms. Rousseff’s critics argue that she also began using funds from giant government banks to cover budget shortfalls as she and her leftist Workers’ Party headed into elections.
“They deliberately destroyed the public finances to obtain re-election,” said Antônio Delfim Netto, 87, a former finance minister and one of Brazil’s most influential economists. Taking note of the government’s inability to rein in spending as a budget deficit expands, Mr. Delfim Netto and other economists are warning that officials may simply opt to print more money, stirring ghosts in an economy once ravaged by high inflation.
. . .
Unemployment is expected to climb even higher as the authorities ponder ways to cut a federal bureaucracy that grew almost 30 percent from 2003 to 2013, to 600,000 civil servants.
A pension crisis is also brewing, partly because of laws that allow many Brazilians to start receiving retirement benefits in their early 50s, even though life expectancy has increased and the fertility rate has fallen, limiting the number of young people to support the aging population.
“How can a person who is 52 years old be able to retire with a pension?” Luiz Fernando Figueiredo, a former central bank official, asked reporters. “These things have to be confronted. If not, the country will become another Greece.”
Parts of Brazil’s business establishment are in revolt, openly expressing disdain. Exame, a leading business magazine, devotes an entire section called “Only in Brazil” to documenting problems with the public bureaucracy.
These examples include a $120 million light-rail system in the city of Campinas that lies abandoned because of poor planning, and a measure requiring companies to obtain a special license before allowing employees to work on Sundays.

For the full story, see:
SIMON ROMERO. “As Boom Fades, Brazil Asks How Sizzle Turned to Fizzle.”The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 11, 2015): A1 & A6.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word and date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 10, 2015, and has the title “As a Boom Fades, Brazilians Wonder How It All Went Wrong.”)

Brazil Libertarian Uses Laser Vision to Privatize Trains

BrazilLaserVisionLibertarian2014-09-30.jpg“In campaign ads, Paulo Batista, who is running for a seat in the São Paulo state legislature, is a superhero looking for old commuter trains to blast into privatization with his laser vision.” Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A4) RIO DE JANEIRO — An auditor flies through the air like Superman, shooting laser beams from his eyes.
. . .
“The neutral, generic method of appealing to voters is a mediocre and failed way of doing politics,” said Paulo Batista, 34, a real estate auditor and self-described libertarian who is running for a seat in São Paulo’s state legislature.
Mr. Batista’s ads, depicting him as a superhero using his laser vision to privatize dilapidated commuter trains, are popular on YouTube.

For the full story, see:
SIMON ROMERO. “Brazil’s Politicians Often Play the Clown in Ads.” The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 3, 2014): A4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 2, 2014.)

Brazilian Entrepreneur Inspired by “The Men Who Built America”

HangLucianoArrivesAtFlagshipHavanStoreInBrusque2013-09-29.jpgThe co-founder of the Havan chain, Luciano Hang, arrives at the chain’s flagship store, which is in Brusque, Brazil. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) “My philosophy is pro-capitalism, so of course the best symbols for this come from the United States,” said Mr. Hang, who flies around Brazil on a Learjet to visit the nearly 60 stores in his chain, called Havan. “I tell people that we’re about freedom: the freedom to stay open when we choose, the freedom to work for us and the freedom to shop,” he added. “I know this can be controversial, but I think those who disagree with my approach are few and far between.”
. . .
The son of textile factory workers, descended from German and Italian immigrants, Mr. Hang said he admired European culture but preferred the United States. He said he was inspired by a show on the History Channel, “The Men Who Built America,” about industrial titans like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
“I couldn’t sleep after I saw that program,” he said.
His business model is partly based on Walmart, whose small-town origins he admires, as well as its method of turning economies of scale into low prices.

For the full story, see:
SIMON ROMERO. “Reshaping Brazil’s Retail Scene, Inspired by Vegas and Vanderbilt.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 14, 2013.)

Brazil’s Cardozo Envies England’s Rule of Law

PalinMichael2013-08-31.jpg

“Michael Palin.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C11) For his most recent project in Brazil, which will go on to become a PBS series, Mr. Palin interviewed former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, who is often credited with the country’s economic turnaround. Whereas he says most political leaders are hesitant to say anything controversial, Mr. Cardoso was refreshingly straightforward. “I asked him, ‘Brazil has so many good things going for it–the people are friendly and relaxed, the economy is booming. Is there anything you envy about us in England?’ ” He was surprised by Mr. Cardoso’s answer. “He said straight out, ‘The rule of law.’ He said, ‘Our problem here is we have endemic corruption,’ ” says Mr. Palin. “I just thought it was incredibly honest for a world leader.”

For the full story, see:
ALEXANDRA WOLFE. “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Michael Palin Takes on the World; The former Monty Python performer is turning his global adventures into comic tales.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)

Biofuels Are Bad for the Planet

(p. A13) Biofuels are under siege from critics who say they crowd out food production. Now these fuels made from grass and grain, long touted as green, are being criticized as bad for the planet.
At issue is whether oil alternatives — such as ethanol distilled from corn and fuels made from inedible stuff like switch grass — actually make global warming worse through their indirect impact on land use around the world.
For example, if farmers in Brazil burn and clear more rainforest to grow food because farmers in the U.S. are using their land to grow grain for fuel, that could mean a net increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main “greenhouse gas” linked to climate change.
. . .
A study published in February [2008] in the journal Science found that U.S. production of corn-based ethanol increases emissions by 93%, compared with using gasoline, when expected world-wide land-use changes are taken into account. Applying the same methodology to biofuels made from switch grass grown on soil diverted from raising corn, the study found that greenhouse-gas emissions would rise by 50%.
Previous studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline reduces greenhouse gases. Those studies generally didn’t account for the carbon emissions that occur as farmers world-wide respond to higher food prices and convert forest and grassland to cropland.

For the full story, see:
STEPHEN POWER. “If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Are Biofuels To Blame? It’s Not Easy Being Green.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 11, 2008): A13.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

Two relevant articles appeared in Science in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue:
Fargione, Joseph, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne. “Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt.” Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1235-38.
Searchinger, Timothy, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu. “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land-Use Change.” Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1238-40.

Huge Oil Field Discovered Offshore of Brazil

Petrobras54oilPlatform.jpg “The Petrobras 54 platform was in Niteroi, Brazil, last August, before its deployment.” Source of the caption and the photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) RIO DE JANEIRO — While some of the world’s largest oil producers, including Mexico and Iran, are struggling to remain exporters, Brazil is moving in the opposite direction. A huge underwater oil field discovered late last year has the potential to transform South America’s largest country into a sizable exporter and win it a seat at the table of the world’s oil cartel.
The new oil, along with refining projects under way by Petrobras, the national oil company, could eventually make Brazil a larger exporter of gasoline as well, adding to supplies in the United States and other countries where it is all but impossible to build new refineries.
The subsalt basin that contains Tupi, the new deepwater field estimated to hold the equivalent of five billion to eight billion barrels of light crude oil, is creating a buzz among the world’s largest oil companies. They have struggled lately to find global-scale projects worth investing in, even with oil touching $100 a barrel. Tupi is the world’s biggest oil find since a 12-billion-barrel field discovered in 2000 in Kazakhstan.



For the full story, see:
ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO. “Hot Prospect for Oil’s Big League.” The New York Times (Fri., January 11, 2008): C1 & C4.



TupiDeepwaterOilField.jpg







“The Tupi deepwater field.” Source of the caption and the map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


Bolivia Sells More Brazil Nuts Than Brazil


(p. A4) Throughout the 20th century, most of the Brazil nuts consumed around the world came from the jungle surrounding this bustling river market town in the eastern Amazon. But the bitter joke here these days is that the only place you can still find a Brazil nut tree is on the municipal seal.
To the chagrin of Brazilians, exports of the nuts that bear their country’s name have fallen precipitously to about 7,000 metric tons in 2003 from nearly 19,000 metric tons in 2000, allowing neighboring Bolivia to become the market leader. Groves of Brazil nut trees are disappearing all over the Brazilian Amazon, and the question of who bears responsibility for that sharp decline and resulting deforestation has become the subject of a heated and growing debate.
Economists, scientists and other scholars tend to point to a single family, based here, that has dominated the industry for three generations and controls hundreds of thousands of acres in this region at the junction of the Araguaia and Tocantins rivers. But members of the influential clan, called Mutran, say they are being unjustly attacked and complain of unfair competition and contraband.
. . .
”At their peak, the Mutrans had a monopoly on everything connected with the Brazil nut industry, from harvesting to transport to exports,” said Marilia Emmi, a professor at the Nucleus for Amazon Research at the Federal University of Pará. ”Much of their own production occurred on public lands that belonged to the state but were initially leased to them for a pittance as the result of backroom political deals.”
. . .
”Because of their monopoly, the Mutrans paid a price so low that production dropped off the map,” said Zico Bronzeado, a former Brazil nut harvester who now represents Acre in the lower house of Congress. The low prices drove growers to abandon the business, the critics say, selling their lands to loggers and cattle ranchers in a process that deforested vast stretches of the Amazon and further enriched the Brazilian elite.

For the full story, see:
LARRY ROHTER. “Marabá Journal; Brazil’s Problem in a Nutshell: Bolivia Grows Nuts Best.” The New York Times (Thurs., August 26, 2004): A4.
(Note: ellipses added.)