How Brazil measures up to Latin America’s biggest economies

. Sep 14, 2019
How Brazil measures up to Latin America biggest economies

Assessing Latin America as a monolith is a terrible mistake. Besides being extremely diverse in cultural, social, and even political terms, the region’s economic aggregates often hide significant country differences. Average results are pulled mainly by a handful of economies which perform as outliers in a region filled with smaller markets. As we decided to compare how the Brazilian economy performed compared to its neighbors, we focused our attention on the region’s main players, that is: Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina.

The history of Latin American economy is a tale of many ups and downs, an inconsistent struggle for development which has also caused many political shifts—and, in many cases, troubles.

</p> <p>Following a wave of free-market reforms in the 1990s, the region—and South America, in particular—decided to shift its political allegiance from the center-right to the center-left in the early 2000s. The process, known as the &#8220;<a href="">Pink Tide</a>,&#8221; profited from the last decade&#8217;s boom of commodities, with Chinese demand for basic products reaching levels never seen before. A major cash inflow helped countries lower inequality rates, lift millions out of poverty, and believe that <a href="">Latin America&#8217;s time had arrived</a>.</p> <p>But overall, countries chose to focus on fostering consumption rather than investments, and few infrastructure revolutions were made—Brazil being a textbook example. When the global financial crisis hit the region (with some delay), the fall from grace was rather brutal. In this decade, Latin America will grow at much lower rates than the rest of the world, and many of those who left poverty are now back to their old condition of economic desperation.</p> <p>That perhaps helps explain why, in country after country, the pink tide has been replaced by a strong swing to the right—in some cases, to the far-right.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/672755"></div><script src=""></script> <p>Next, we compare how the Brazilian economy fared since 2000, against other major economies of Latin America.</p> <h2>Gross Domestic Product</h2> <p>Data shows that the last global financial crisis left lingering effects on Latin America—with none of the top economies having recovered pre-crisis GDP growth rates. Chile and Colombia, however, have avoided the same level of inconsistency experienced by the other analyzed countries. Argentina, on the other end, has a GDP growth curve that looks more like a cardiac monitor.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/973401"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Foreign direct investment</h2> <p>Brazil&#8217;s sheer size makes the country an outlier. But, looking at the global picture, we can see that direct investment by <a href="">non-resident investors</a> has doubled between 2008 to 2011. In recent years, China has poured money into the region, heading dozens of infrastructure projects in several countries—rivaling the U.S. and Europe in terms of <a href="">influence on the region</a>. If in 2010 British magazine <em>The Economist</em> said the region was &#8220;<a href="">Nobody&#8217;s backyard</a>,&#8221; several foreign interests are now being invited round to play &#8230;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/671664"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>International reserves</h2> <p>At the turn of the century, Brazil didn&#8217;t have huge international reserves, making the country more susceptible to speculative attacks, as reporter <a href="">Natália Scalzaretto explained</a>. Having that cushion became an obsession during the years of former President Lula. In the last 18 years, Brazil has multiplied its international reserves elevenfold, while Mexico&#8217;s expanded by five times over the same span.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/671720"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Inflation</h2> <p>When it comes to price hikes, the region&#8217;s main economies follow a similar curve, while Chile has lower inflation than the rest. The outlier, once again, is Argentina. The country experienced huge peaks in 2002, and since 2013 it has not posted a yearly inflation rate of lower than 20.8 percent.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/671672"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Labor market</h2> <p>Unemployment is one of the main drivers of disgruntlement in Brazil, with over 12 million people out of the workforce. Among all analyzed countries, Brazil has the highest unemployment rate, even if the figures are going up in Argentina (quite sharply), Chile, and Colombia. Mexico on the other hand, with only 3.32 percent of workers without a job, enjoys full employment.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/671696"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Life expectancy</h2> <p>That was one indicator in which all countries have progressed at similar rates, but Chilean residents live much longer than other Latin Americans, as their country boasts the best human development figures in the region. In Brazil, the numbers have improved a lot, and they would be better were it not for the incredibly high murder rates—which victimize many of the country&#8217;s youth.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/671688"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Violence</h2> <p>A 2018 study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) shows that Latin America is the most violent region in the world, concentrating 39 percent of global homicides. Argentina and Chile, with higher levels of education and development, have the lowest murder rates. Meanwhile, Brazil tops the list, with 29.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. Colombia&#8217;s case is the most impressive of the group, with rates taking a nosedive this century—from 68.3 per 100,000 people in 2002 to 25.5 in 2016, thanks to a distension process between governments and FARC revolutionary fighters. However, many old FARC leaders have just announced they will <a href="">take up arms again</a>, raising tensions in the country.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/671550"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Infant Mortality</h2> <p>Reducing infant mortality is among the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Despite having progressed since the turn of the century, most Latin American countries still have levels below what is considered acceptable by the World Health Organization—10 per 1,000 births. Meanwhile, Argentina and Chile are on par with Western Europe.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/671658"></div><script src=""></script> <p>

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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