More than 25 years of democracy and political stability have allowed Brazil to make major strides in economic development, including cutting its official poverty rate by half. Yet the forces that provided much of the economy’s momentum during the past decade—an expanding labor force, credit-fueled consumption, and high commodity prices—are beginning to stall.
This recent slowdown has exposed the more fundamental issue of the country’s long-term weakness in income growth. Although Brazil has become the world’s seventh-largest economy, it ranks 95th in the world for GDP per capita. Most households have experienced only modest income growth, while inefficiencies and extra layers of taxes and tariffs push the prices of many consumer goods beyond reach. Having successfully lifted millions out of extreme poverty, Brazil must now deliver on the promise of a middle-class life.