This paper aims to address the role played by social policies and the social protection system in paving a new economic regime in Brazil—social developmentalism—and explain the kind of coordination between macroeconomic policies and social spending that ultimately prevailed in both cycles of growth and recession. It particularly focuses on the relationship between the expansion of the economy and the existing social protection system. What new social policy arrangements emerged during the expansionary cycle? Did they contribute to strengthen the social security system? Were they genuinely innovative? Did they address major social development bottlenecks? Will these positive interactions between economic and social policies withstand times of severe macroeconomic austerity? Last but not least, has social cohesion been reinforced in a society profoundly polarized by persistent inequalities and ingrained discrimination?
Over the past decade, the hallmark of the new Brazilian welfare model has been the prioritizing of monetary expenditures over what we might call investments in social infrastructure, aimed at equalizing opportunities and levels of well-being. At the same time, this model spurred on the mass consumer market, as well as the financialization that effectively provides access to durable and nondurable goods, and to services where the private sector steps in for the public sector—healthcare and education in particular. In driving on commodification, this model weakened the ongoing consolidation of the social security system, reinforcing dynamics that segment, discriminate and condition access to social rights. The welfare regime that is surfacing is nothing more than an additional function now attributed to social policy—in this case, custom-fit to the logic of financial capitalism.
At the time of their collaboration, Lena Lavinas
was Professor of Welfare Economics at the Institute of Economics, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Denise Gentil
was Professor of Economics at the Institute of Economics, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Barbara Cobo
was Coordinator of the Population and Social Indicators Department of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.