March 19th, 2021

Party Politics and Social Policy

A conversation between Lena Lavinas, André Singer, and Barbara Weinstein

In the The Takeover of Social Policy by Financialization, Lena Lavinas names the “Brazilian Paradox”: the model of social inclusion implemented by the Workers’ Party under President Lula and President Rousseff promotes a logic of financial inclusion and market incorporation, and has ultimately contributed to mass indebtedness among the Brazilian population. André Singer assesses this period of social policy expansion as an attempt to reach the “Rooseveltian dream”—a political project that ended with the impeachment of President Rousseff in 2016 and the election of President Bolsonaro in 2018.

On January 25, Lena Lavinas, André Singer, and Barbara Weinstein, historian and author of For Social Peace in Brazil, gathered to discuss this period of mass social inclusion and its unraveling in political scandal and a lurch to the right. A recording of the conversation can be watched here. The transcript was edited for length and clarity.

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January 23rd, 2021

Luxor

SOCIAL POLICY IN BRAZIL

Outside of Brazil, the Bolsa Familia is known as the hallmark social policy of the former President Lula and remains the world's largest conditional cash transfer program. Less well known is the history of Brazil's social policy in the early decades of the twentieth century.

In her 1996 book, BARBARA WEINSTEIN examines how industrialists influenced the nation's social programs from 1920 to 1964.

From the book:

"Although the industrialist proponents of rational organization did aspire to remake the workplace and the workforce, their concern in the first instance was to remake themselves, or at least their class image. By identifying with new currents in rational organization and scientific management, these industrialists, engineers, and educators claimed for themselves the professional authority and technical expertise necessary to modernize Brazilian society. In contrast to the 'arbitrary' authority of the old-style planter or mill owner, these new industrial owner-managers defined a wide variety of problems affecting the organization of production in the workplace, and even life beyond the factory walls, as technical, not social, questions to be resolved on a systematic, scientific basis. Such an approach, they claimed, would not only increase productivity but also promote social peace.

This effort by certain industrialists and their allies to capture the discourse of technical competence had formidable implications for labor relations and the work process, but workers were not the industrialists' sole concern. The industrialists also sought to change the perception of industry among politicians, professionals, and middle-class reformers who harbored doubts about the industry's contribution to economic progress and social peace. By asserting the centrality of technical expertise as well as their privileged access to it, industrialists attempted to protect and expand their authority within the factory and claim an authoritative role in the making of public policies and programs."

Link to the book.

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June 30th, 2020

Rooftops

DEVELOPMENT AND SOCIAL POLICY

Brazil's Bolsa Familia is widely credited with lifting more than 20 million people out of extreme poverty, making it a global model for anti-poverty initiatives. Developed as part of a broader theory of equitable development, it serves as the basis for ongoing efforts to expand the social welfare system for the country’s poor and working class.

In a 2017 book, economist LENA LAVINAS takes a critical approach to Brazilian social policy. Examining the relationship between social policy and financial markets, Levinas argues that, despite its successes, the strategy of "social developmentalism" in Brazil unwittingly entrenched both unequal growth and the stagnation of social protection.

From the book:

"The twenty-first century seemed poised to pluck Brazil from its history of underdevelopment. After suffering through two decades (1980–2003) of low growth and considerable macroeconomic instability, Brazil—in step with the rest of Latin America—was ready to begin a series of rosy years. In the new developmental strategy, the missing link on the way to social cohesion, so the argument went, would emerge with the advent of mass consumption. In Brazil, as in the rest of Latin America, the core impediment to the expansion of a mass consumption society resided (above all else) in the absence of mechanisms for boosting consumption in the context of low productivity and the persistent oversupply of labor.

Performance in terms of the provision of public facilities has not tracked remotely close to the vitality of the market. It does, however, reveal welfare inequities that the market obscures. Through this prism, the upward social mobility observed in Brazil in the years spanning 2003–2014 failed to even come close to promoting a true expansion of the country’s middle classes. Social policy served as collateral to access financial markets through credit. In Brazil, the market has universalized access to color TVs and fridges among those in the lowest income quintile. Treated water, however, to say nothing of adequate sanitation, remains a luxury, the province of few."

Link to the publisher's page.

  • A 2018 by Lavinas details one of the book's arguments—"the collateralization of social policy." Link. And a 2013 paper by Lavinas examines the broad adoption of conditional cash transfer schemes throughout Latin America. Link.
  • In a 2014 paper, Michael McCarthy examines union attempts to control pension fund investment. Link. Another paper by Natascha van der Zwan on the financial politics of occupational pensions. Link. See also: McCarthy's book Dismantling Solidarity, on these same themes. Link.
  • Marie Gottschalk's book The Shadow Welfare State examines the American "private-sector safety net." Link. See also: Frank R. Dobbin's 1992 paper "The Origins of Private Social Insurance: Public Policy and Fringe Benefits in America, 1920-1950." Link.
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