Geography: South America and the Southern Cone Web viewGeography: South America and the Southern...
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Geography: South America and the Southern Cone The South American continent is a challenging piece of real estate. The bulk of its territory is located in the equatorial zone, making nearly all of the northern two-thirds of its territory subtropical or tropical. Jungle territory is the most difficult sort of terrain/biome to adapt for human economic activity. Simply clearing the land bears onerous costs. Soils are poor. Diseases run rampant. The climate is often too humid to allow grains to ripen. Even if the rivers are navigable, the banks are too muddy for construction (as is the case with the Amazon). Jungle and rainforest are the dominant vegetation of South America and so it is no surprise that the continent’s economic and political history has been problematic. Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are fully within the tropical zone, and as such have always faced difficulties in achieving economic and political stability (the discovery of oil in Venezuela has obviously improved that country’s trajectory). Throughout the tropical zones nearly all of the population live within a few dozen kilometers of the coast, but those costs for the most part are not naturally sculpted to encourage interaction with the outside world. Natural ports -- deepwater or otherwise -- are few and far between. There are, however, two geographic features on the continent that break the monotony of jungle. The first is the Andean mountain chain, which runs down the continent’s western edge, giving rise to a handful of littoral and trans-mountain cultures physically separated from the continent’s eastern bulk and thus largely left to develop according to their own devices. Colombia and Ecuador straddle the tropics and the Andes, with their economic cores not being coastal, but instead elevated in the somewhat cooler and dryer Andean valleys to somewhat mitigate the difficulties of the tropics. Further south are the arid transmountain states of Peru and Bolivia. Peru has achieved some degree of wealth by largely ignoring its own interior except when seeking resource extraction opportunities, instead concentrating its scant capital on the de facto city-state of Lima itself. In contrast, landlocked Bolivia is trapped in a perennial struggle between the poor highlanders of the Altiplano and the agriculturally rich region of the lowland Medialuna.
The combination of mountains and jungle greatly limits the degree of integration that any of these states in this arc -- from French Guyana in the northeast to Bolivia in the southwest -- enjoy with both each other and the outside world. In all cases basic transport is extremely difficult, tropical diseases are often a serious issue, there are few good ports, agricultural development is both more labor and capital intensive compared to more traditional food-producing regions, humidity and heat hinder conventional grain production, and the ruggedness of the mountains raises the costs of everything. Historically the only way these states have achieved progress towards economic development is by establishing a dependency relationship with an external (and usually extra-regional) power that is willing to provide investment capital. Without something along those lines these states simply lack the capital generation capacities to meet their unique and staggering infrastructure challenges. Consequently, the broader region is severely underdeveloped, with most of the populations of most of these states crushingly poor. While some may be able to achieve relative wealth under the right mix of circumstances, none of them have the ability to be significant regional -- much less global -- powers. The second exception to the tropical dominance of South America are the temperate lands of the Southern Cone. Here the summers are dry enough to allow traditional grains to ripen, while cooler weather -- and especially winter insect kills -- limits the impact of disease outbreaks. Unlike the scattered populations of the Andean region, the Southern Cone is one gigantic stretch of mostly-flat, moderately-watered territory. The bulk of that land lies in Argentina, with progressively smaller pieces of it lying in Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. The only remaining country on the continent is where the temperate Southern Cone overlaps with the Andean mountain zone: Chile, one of the world’s most physically isolated states. It is further from Santiago to Lima by air than it is from London to Moscow, and further from Santiago to Buenos Aires by ship than it is from New York City to London. Chile does not participate significantly in the politics of the Southern Cone.
In stark contrast to the mountains and jungle that dominate the majority of South America, the Southern Cone flatlands are the best real estate on the continent. Their flatness combined with their natural prairies lowers the cost of construction, and the temperate climate makes them rich agricultural zones. But the real advantage lies in the region’s river structure. The Parana, Uruguay and Paraguay rivers combined with the Rio de la Plata -- a massive estuary that empties into the Atlantic between contemporary Buenos Aires and Montevideo -- are all navigable for a great portion of their length. Moving goods via water is -- conservatively -- one-seventieth the cost of moving good by truck once the cost of road construction is factored in. Such rivertine-transport systems, therefore, generate massive amounts of capital with little difficulty compared to land-transport systems. Collectively this river network overlaying the agricultural flatlands is known as the Rio de la Plata region.
These rivers are particularly valuable for agricultural commodities-producing regions such as the Rio de la Plata. Wheat, corn, soybeans and the like suffer from a weak value-to-bulk ratio -- oftentimes transporting them great distances can only be done at an economic loss (for example, the agonies and famines in Russia are often the direct result of the inability to efficiently bring foodstuffs to the cities -- Russia’s navigable rivers are in the wrong place and so the produce must be lugged by truck or train). Water transport allows for foodstuffs to cheaply and easily be brought not just downstream, but to the ocean and then the wider world.
The most important geographic fact on the continent is that this region’s rivers are not only navigable independently, but also collectively. Only the Greater Mississippi River network of North America has more kilometers of interconnected maritime transport options. This interconnectivity not only allows for greater economies of scale, greater volumes of capital generation and larger populations, but it greatly enhances the establishment of a single political authority. In contrast, the separate rivers of the Northern European Plain have given rise to multiple, often mutually-hostile, nationalities. Argentina controls the mouth of the Rio de la Plata and the bulk of the navigable stretches of river. This leaves the Uruguayans, Paraguayans and Brazilians much weaker entities within the region. (Overall Brazilian power is greater than Argentine power, but not in the critical capital-generating geography of the Rio de la Plata region.)
The Brazilian Geography
Most of Brazil does not lie within this choice Southern Cone territory. Roughly two-thirds of Brazil’s 8.5 million square miles of territory is composed of vast tracks of challenging jungle,
with the Amazon Basin being the most intractable of all. While there are many potential minerals opportunities, the daunting infrastructure costs associated with exploiting them has made -- and will continue to make -- the Amazon a money pit from a development point of view. Outside of the Amazon Basin, much of Brazil’s remaining lands are still tropical, but the rainfall, heat and humidity is far less intense. These areas can be forced to be economically viable, but only at extreme costs. The infrastructural challenges are massive, both in terms of the distances from these interior zones to population centers on the coast, and the sheer costs of clearing rainforest to in effect terraform the land for human use. Brazil has spent the greater part of the past three generations engaged in precisely this sort of grand effort. (We shall revisit these secondary lands and the impact they have upon Brazil’s development and future later in this monograph.)
Luckily for the Brazilians, not all of Brazil’s lands are so difficult. About 600,000 square kilometers of Brazil is considered traditionally arable. While this represents “only” 7 percent of the country’s total land area, that still constitutes a piece of arable territory roughly the size of Texas or France. All of that land lies in the country’s extreme south. However, much of that territory lies in the interior where it is not easily accessible. Brazil’s true core territories are less than one quarter of this 7 percent, about the size of Tunisia or Montana, straddling the area where the tropical zone gives way to the temperate lands of the Southern Cone. These are the areas of Brazil that formed the core of the original settlements in the early colonial period, and these lands formed the population core of Brazil for the first three centuries of its existence. As such, the topography of these lands has had an almost deterministic impact on Brazil’s development. Understanding that topography and its legacy is central to understanding what is empowering Brazil to -- and hampering Brazil from -- evolving into a major power in the years to come.
There are two obvious characteristics that stand out about this core Brazilian region. First, it is semi-tropical, so development in the region faces a somewhat less intense version of the challenges described above for fully tropical zones. Second, and more critical, is that the Brazilian interior is a raised plateau -- called the Brazilian Shield -- which directly abuts Brazil’s Atlantic coast along nearly the entirety of the country’s southeastern perimeter. The drop from the Shield to the Atlantic is quite steep, with most of the coast appearing as a wall when viewed from the ocean -- the source of the dramatic backdrops of most Brazilian coastal cities. This wall is called the Grand Escarpment, and most of Brazil’s core cities -- Rio de Janeiro, Vitoria, Santos, Sao Francisco do Sul, Florianopolis and Porto Alegre -- are located on small, isolated pockets of flattish land where the Escarpment falls to the sea.
The primary problem this enclave topography presents is achieving economies of scale. In normal development patterns, cities form around some sort of core economic asset, typically a river’s head of navigation (the maximum inland point that a sizable cargo vessel can reach) or a port or nexus of other transport options. The city then spreads out, typically growing along the transport corridors, reflecting that access to those transport corridors provides greater economic opportunities and lower economic costs. So long as flattish land remains available, the city can continue growing at low cost. In time, nearby cities often start merging into each other, allowing them to share labor, capital, infrastructure and services. Economies of scale proliferate and such megacities begin generating massive amounts of capital and skilled labor from the synergies.
Megacities -- such as New York City, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Istanbul and Shanghai -- form the core of the global economic system. This “standard” development pattern has been repeated the world over. The premier American example is the “megalopolis” region of cities on the American Eastern Seaboard stretching from Washington, DC to Boston, which includes such major locations as Baltimore, Dover, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford and Providence. In Europe a similar conglomeration contains an arc of cities
including the many cities of the German Rhine Valley. In both cases, major and minor cities alike merge into an urban/suburban conglomeration where the resources of each location are shared with and bolstered by the others. Even the Central Texas area from which Stratfor hails has a similar structure, with suburbs such as Georgetown, Round Rock, San Marcos and New Braunfels linking the metropolitan regions of Austin and San Antonio together into a larger and more economically viable whole of roughly four million people. In all cases the common characteristic is that there is land upon which to expand.
That land is precisely what the Brazil core territory lacks. The Grand Escarpment comes right down to the ocean throughout the Brazilian southern coast. Brazil’s cities, therefore, are forced to develop on small enclaves of flattish land in the few areas where the Escarpment has not pushed all the way to the sea. There are no small cities that can form between the major cities because there is no coastal plain. Any infrastructure built by one city never serves another city, and linking the cities together requires climbing up the Escarpment onto the Shield itself, traversing the shield, and then diving back down the Escarpment to the other cities, a difficult and costly endeavor in terms of both time and engineering. Because Brazil does not have direct access to the navigable rivers of the Rio de la Plata region, it has to scrounge for capital to apply to this capital-intensive project. Absolute limitations on land area also drives up the cost of that land, injecting strong inflation into the mix right at the beginning and raising development costs across the board. This is not something that can be “grown out of” or “developed around”. The topography is constant and these cities simply cannot synergize each other -- you cannot build a modern, low capital-cost city on the side of a cliff. Enclavic geography cannot be maneuvered around, and these enclaves are Brazil’s points of interaction with the outside world. They represent a constant, permanent restriction on the ability of Brazil to grow.
City land area population
Recife 414 3,175,000Porto Alegre 777 3,325,000Rotterdam-Hague 842 2,075,000Belo Horizonte 1,010 4,475,000Istanbul 1,256 11,100,000Rio de Janeiro 1,580 10,900,000London 1,623 8,278,000Shanghai, SH 2,396 13,600,000Sao Paulo 2,590 18,700,000Buenos Aires 2,590 12,000,000Paris 3,043 10,400,000Houston 3,463 3,912,000Los Angeles 5,812 13,829,000Chicago, IL--IN 5,952 8,646,000Tokyo-Yokohama 7,835 34,250,000New York 11,264 19,712,000
Brazil, from the very beginning, started out with all of these significant disadvantages, and even in the modern day Brazil has very few major highways and railways because even where the topography does allow for the possibility, the costs are so much higher than in flatter lands further south. Even today the country lacks a major coastal road system as the Escarpment is simply too steep and too close to the coast. (There’s no need to even take Stratfor’s word for it. Follow the Brazilian coastline on Google Earth and it is easy to see how Brazil’s coastal roads are almost exclusively two-lane, and the coastal cities -- while dramatic -- are tiny and crammed into whatever pockets of land they can find.)
[Caption: The Great Escarpment drops almost directly down to the coast in most portions of southern Brazil. This picture (taken from behind Christ the Redeemer) illustrates how Rio has grown to cover all the flat land on all sides of Bata de Guanabara. All of Brazil’s southern coastal cities have developed along similar patterns. They all lack the traditional hinterlands of major cities elsewhere in the world.]
The one region that is the exception to this rule is Sao Paulo state, centered around the city of the same name. Only Sao Paulo has sufficient flat lands to follow a more standard development pattern, and thus achieve any economies of scale. It is also the only portion of Brazil that has anything resembling a modern, integrated infrastructure that follows more traditional
development patterns. Unsurprisingly, this single state accounts for over one-third of Brazil’s GDP despite only serving as home to only one-fifth its population. As recently as 1950 Sao Paulo state produced over one-half Brazil’s economic output.
Unfortunately, Sao Paulo is not a coastal city. The Escarpment at Sao Paulo is too steep and the coastal enclave -- the port of Santos -- is too small to take full advantage of Sao Paulo’s potential. Instead Sao Paulo sits at an elevation of about 800 meters atop the Brazilian Shield, some 70 kilometers inland. (In comparison, the American city of Minneapolis -- 3000 kilometers inland -- sits at less than 200 meters elevation.) This sharp elevation change helps mitigate the climatic impact of the region’s near-tropical conditions that predominate on the actual coast, but comes at the dauntingly high capital and engineering costs required to link the city/state to the coast. So while Sao Paulo is indeed a major economic center, it not one hardwired into the other coastal cities or the world at large.
The lack of economies of scale and difficulty of integrating local infrastructures forces omnipresent bottlenecks. The worst of those bottlenecks occur where the coastal enclaves interact with the outside world -- in Brazil’s ports -- and it is here that Brazil faces the biggest limiting factor in achieving economic breakout. Brazil is (accurately) thought of as a major exporter of any number of raw commodities, but the hostility of its geography to shipping and the inability of its cities to integrate has drastically curtailed port development. The top seven Brazilian ports combined have less loading capacity than the top U.S. port (New Orleans) and all Brazilian ports combined have (considerably) less loading capacity than the top two U.S. ports (New Orleans and Houston).
TOP 15 US AND BRAZILIAN PORTS BY TONNAGESouth Louisiana, LA, Port of 212,580,811 SANTOS-SP 75,641,825Houston, TX 211,340,972 ITAGUAÍ-RJ 49,755,062
New York, NY and NJ 144,689,593 PARANAGUÁ-PR 30,630,149
Long Beach, CA 72,500,221VILA DO CONDE-PA 16,318,534
Corpus Christi, TX 68,239,968 RIO GRANDE-RS 14,855,525New Orleans, LA 68,126,087 ITAQUI-MA 11,689,425Beaumont, TX 67,715,469 SUAPE-PE 7,520,799Huntington - Tristate 59,171,545 S. F. DO SUL-SC 6,848,759
Los Angeles, CA 58,406,060RIO DE JANEIRO-RJ 6,769,028
Texas City, TX 52,632,461 ARATU-BA 5,261,077Lake Charles, LA 52,252,099 VITÓRIA-ES 4,768,782
Mobile, AL 52,219,034AREIA BRANCA-RN 3,594,410
Baton Rouge, LA 51,917,597 FORTALEZA-CE 3,496,112Plaquemines, LA, Port of 50,869,280 SALVADOR-BA 3,154,270Norfolk Harbor, VA 40,325,961 BELÉM-PA 2,879,901
Building a more sustainable Brazil can not be done on the coast; there simply was not enough land there to feed a growing nation. But climbing up the Great Escarpment to develop the interior introduces a new problem.
The coastal ridge at the top of the Great Escarpment is also part of South American continental divide. Within a few dozen kilometers of the southeastern coast, South American rivers flow west, not east -- ultimately emptying into the Rio de la Plata network. As the early Brazilian cities attempted to develop interior hinterlands, those hinterlands found themselves more economically intertwined with Argentine and Paraguayan lands to the south rather than their parent communities to the east. For many in the interior it was cheaper, easier and faster to float products down the rivers to the megaport of Buenos Aires than to lug them by land up and over the Brazilian coastal mountain ranges and down the Great Escarpment to the middling disconnected ports of coastal Brazil. Similarly, it was far easier to sail down the Atlantic coast and up the Rio de la Plata Basin onto the Parana than expend the cost of building on-land infrastructure. Brazil’s early efforts to develop integration within its own territories paradoxically led to an economic dependence upon its southern neighbors which only weakened inner-Brazilian relationships.
Those southern neighbors were not kind about it either, and in early Brazil’s efforts to own its own land it also started out with some sharp disadvantages. Unlike the American independence experience where all of the colonies were part of the same administration and so they all battled as one against their colonial overlord, South America was a patchwork of different entities -- all of which fought for their independence in the same 15-year period (Paraguay achieved independence in 1811, Argentina in 1816 and Brazil in 1822). Immediately upon independence the new states struggled for control of the waterways which held the key to being the dominant, integrated economic power of the Southern Cone. Since Brazil was the last of the region’s states to break away from its master, it had the least amount of time to consolidate in preparation for the post-independence wars, and its enclave nature made such consolidation far more challenging than the experience of the other Southern Cone states. Brazil did very badly in the ensuing conflicts.
Those early wars resulted in the formal severing of Uruguay from Brazil, and the banishing of Brazilian authority to above the heads-of-navigation of all of the Rio de la Plata region’s rivers.
All of the rivers’ navigable lengths were now shared between Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, leaving capital-poor Brazil sequestered in its highland semi-tropical territories. Argentina and Paraguay rapidly rose in economic and military might, while Brazil languished with little more than plantation agriculture for over a century.
The next two generations of regional competition did not focus on Brazil, but instead Argentina and Paraguay, who struggled for control of the Rio de la Plata maritime system. That competition came to a head in the 1864-1870 War of the Triple Alliance in which Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay fought to victory in a bruising war with Paraguay. Fully 90 percent of the male Paraguayan population died in the conflict, nearly destroying Paraguay as a country. Its demography did not finally rebalance until the 1990s. With Brazil’s wings clipped and its more serious regional rival all but destroyed, Argentina fashioned Paraguay and Uruguay into economic satellites, and leveraged the region’s river systems to become a global economic power. By 1929 it sported a per capita GDP that was the world’s fourth highest. Brazil, in contrast, remained impoverished and relatively isolated for decades.
Nor was Brazil united. Between the economic pull of the Rio de la Plata and the disconnected nature of the enclavic coast, regionalism grew it a major feature of Brazilian politics. Contact between the various pieces of Brazil was difficult while contact with the outside world was relatively easy, making integration of all kinds -- political, economic, and cultural -- often prove elusive. Regionalism is a major issue in Brazilian politics, with strong rivalries triggering divisions among states, and between states and the federal government. The preponderance of power at the beginning of the 20th century lay in the hands of the wealthier states, Minas Gerais and of course Sao Paulo, and for many years central government control alternated between the two. This marginalized the other states politically, unconsciously nudging them to seek economic opportunities globally while defining their identities locally. For the better part of a century “Brazil” was less a national concept as much as it was a geographic concept. Rio de Janerio and Rio Grande do Sul started acting in many ways like independent states. This state of affairs lasted until very recently (we will discuss the re-unification of Brazil in a later section).
Brazil’s Inflation Trap
Brazil’s biggest problem -- which began with the colonial settlement process and which continues to the current day -- is that it is simply not capable of growth that is both sustained and stable. Economic growth in any location is inflationary, as demand for land, labor, transport, capital and resources pushes the prices of all of these inputs up. Growth in most places can continue until those inflationary pressures build and eventually overtake any potential benefit of that growth. At that point growth collapses due to higher costs and a recession sets in. Brazil’s burden to bear is that the first four of these categories -- land, labor, transport and capital -- exist in such extreme scarcity in Brazil that any economic growth almost instantly turns inflationary. Land, transport and capital we have already addressed. The labor component requires more explanation, particularly since contemporary Brazil’s 194 million strong population would seem to suggest that labor shortages are impossible.
The labor issue is rooted in Brazil’s oligarchic economic system, and this too has a geographic origin. Brazil suffers from low capital generation and high capital costs -- the opposite of most of the world’s economic power centers. In those power centers the omnipresence of capital and the low demand for it allows a democratization of economic power. In the American experience anyone could easily push out of the cities into the lands of the Greater Mississippi Basin, and within a year or two be exporting agricultural produce not just to American cities, but European cities. In contrast in Brazil, massive amounts of capital were needed simply to build roads up the
Grand Escarpment. The idea of a common citizen establishing an independent economic existence in that sort of environment was silly, and the only people who had the capacity to “build” Brazil were those who entered the country with their own pre-existing fortunes. So while landless peasants seeking land formed the bulkwark of the early American experience -- and the industrialization that followed -- in Brazil it was rich Portuguese settlers who brought a portion of their fortunes with them who started Brazil on its path. And as could be expected in a location where capital was rare but the needs for capital were high, these oligarchs saw no reason to share what infrastructure they built with anyone -- even each other.
Complicating matters was that early Brazil did not have full access to that France-sized piece of arable land -- that lay a bit more in the interior and on the wrong side of the Grand Escarpment. The (sub)tropical climate drastically limited the agricultural options available for exploitation. Until the mid-20th century the only crops that could be grown en masse were plantation crops, most famously and originally sugar, but in time coffee, citrus, bananas and tobacco as well. But unlike more traditional cereal crops that only require a few weeks of attention per year, such tropical crops are far more labor intensive in their planting, tending, harvest and transport. Tobacco had to be cut and dried. Sugar cut, cooked and refined. You can quickly thresh a grain field and pour a truck full of harvested wheat, but have you ever tried doing that with bananas?
These characteristics impacted Brazil in three critical ways. First, the capital required for these plantations was so extreme that the topography harshly discriminated against smallholders of the American model. No smallholders meant no small towns that could form the kernels of education and industrialization. Plantations meant company towns where economic oligarchies gave birth to political oligarchies. In time this power misbalance would provide the foundation for the Brazilian military governments of the twentieth century. Even in contemporary times Brazil’s geography continues to favor oligarchic plantation farming to family farming. Currently 85 percent of American farms -- somewhat (in)famous for their “factory farm” mentality -- by land area are of 500 acres or less, whereas 70 percent of Brazilian farms are institutions of 500 acres or more.
Somewhat ironically, time has not moderated this trend, but instead deepened it. In the latter half of the twentieth century Brazil launched a massive agricultural diversification effort that included the clearing of vast swathes of rainforest deep in the interior, right up to the Bolivian border. These new lands were appropriate for -- among other things -- corn and soybeans, crops that normally are quite amenable to farmers of a more modest capital base. However, these locations are in excess of 1000 kilometers from Brazil’s perennially overworked ports. The ensuing transport costs have only reinforced the oligarchic nature of the Brazilian agricultural system: the average “new” Brazilian farm is six times the size of the farms of “old” Brazil.
Second, the sort of labor required for plantation agriculture is extremely low skilled. So unlike the more advanced New World colonies, which enjoyed access to easier transport, and thus more capital and from it, the kernels of urbanization, an educational system and labor differentiation, Brazil used slave labor. Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere -- in 1888 -- to outlaw slavery. This stilted labor pattern continues into the modern day. A lack of skilled labor means, among other things, a small middle class and low internal consumption. Brazil is a land of a small rich landed elite and swathes of forgottens. As of 2011 fully one in four Brazilians eek out a living in Brazil’s infamous slums, the favelas. According to the Gini coefficient, a sociological measure of income inequality, Brazil has been the most unequal of the world’s major states for decades.
Taken together Brazil faces inflationary barriers at every stage of the growth cycles. Starting a business requires capital, which is in short supply -- which causes interest rates to be high -- and held by a privileged class. Shipping goods requires scarce infrastructure, which is insufficient to needs, expensive, and often owned by a privileged class that can raise rates at will. Any increase in demand for either of these inputs puts upward pressure on the associated costs. Expanding a business requires skilled labor, but there is not a deep skilled labor pool so any hiring quickly results in wage spirals. And holding everything back is the still-disconnected nature of the
Brazilian cities, so there are few economies of scale. More than anywhere else in the world, growth triggers inflation -- which kills growth.
Consequently, Brazil has been characterized by below-average growth and above-average inflation for not just decades, but centuries. Consequently, Brazil is underindustrialized compared to most other developing states, and there are not particularly strong signs that this will change any time soon. Even before the oligarchs’ interests are factored in, the fact remains that what infrastructure that it is logical to construct will be linked to projects which good cash-flow potential, whether that be agricultural output or mining. As such Brazil has had little choice but to focus on the extraction/production of primary commodities such as sugar and iron ore. Such capital-intensive industries not only reinforce the oligarchic system, but also skew the economy’s output. As of 2010 fully 70 percent of Brazil’s exports are dollar denominated, with 45 percent of exports by value consisting of raw commodities. This may help Brazil’s (dollar-denominated) bottom line, but it does nothing to address the infrastructure, skilled labor, inequality or inflationary straightjackets that chronically hold Brazil back. In short its no surprise that Brazil has not yet emerged as a major global power. It cannot economically expand without killing itself with inflation. Its skilled labor pool and capital markets are woefully insufficient for its needs, and the oligarchs have a vested interest in keeping things they way that they are. Even efforts to expand out of the country’s various traps have in many ways only entrenched the system as it is. And what growth Brazil has enjoyed in recent years has not been because of anything that Brazil has done, but instead because of the combination of a broad rise in commodity prices and heavy foreign investment into Brazilian infrastructure to get at those commodities.
This hardly means that Brazil is either a failed state or that its past is condemned to be its future. What this does mean is that if Brazil is to rise as a major power something has to change. And something has changed. Two things in fact: Argentina and the way in which the Brazilians themselves view their country.