Perry Anderson at the London Review of Books:
Half-hidden, the roots of this debacle lay in the soil of the PT’s model of growth itself. From the outset, its success relied on two kinds of nutrient: a super-cycle of commodity prices, and a domestic consumption boom. Between 2005 and 2011, the terms of trade for Brazil improved by a third, as demand for its raw materials from China and elsewhere increased the value of its principal exports and the volume of tax receipts for social expenditures. By the end of Lula’s second term, the share of primary commodities in the Brazilian export package had jumped from 28 to 41 per cent, and manufactures had fallen from 55 to 44 per cent; by the end of Dilma’s first term, raw materials accounted for more than half the value of all exports. But from 2011 onwards the prices of the country’s leading tradable goods collapsed: iron ore dropped from $180 to $55 a ton, soya from $18 to $8 a bushel, crude oil from $140 to $50 a barrel. Compounding the end of the overseas bonanza, domestic consumption hit the buffers. Throughout its rule, the core strategy of the PT had been to expand home demand by increasing popular purchasing power. That was achieved not only by raising the minimum wage and making cash transfers to the poor – the Bolsa Família – but by a massive injection of consumer credit. Over the decade from 2005 to 2015, total debt owed by the private sector increased from 43 to 93 per cent of GDP, with consumer loans running at double the level of neighbouring countries. By the time Dilma was re-elected in late 2014, interest payments on household credit were absorbing more than a fifth of average disposable income. Along with the exhaustion of the commodity boom, the consumer spree was no longer sustainable. The two motors of growth had stalled.
In 2011 the aim of Mantega’s new economic matrix had been to kick-start the economy by lifting investment. But his means of doing so had diminished. State banks had been steadily increasing their share of loan capital, from a third to a half of all credit since he took over in 2006 – the portfolio of the government’s development bank, BNDES, rose sevenfold after 2007. Offering preferential rates to leading companies that added up to a much larger subsidy than outlays to poor families, the ‘Bolsa Empresarial’ cost the treasury about double the Bolsa Família.