Authored by Jeffrey Snider via Alhambra Investment Partners,
A recent poll in Brazil showed that one-third of Brazilians favor “military intervention.” The country had been gripped by a crippling trucker’s strike, the results of which have been almost complete economic shutdown. Intervention, as it is softly termed, would be nothing less than a coup.
The direct cause of the strike is quite simple. Under former President Dilma Rousseff, the state used national oil company Petrobras to subsidize the price of diesel. Monthly adjustments were made, but by and large any oil price fluctuations on global markets made little difference to the country’s vast fleet of trucks snaking their way over highways. It nearly bankrupted the company.
After Rousseff was impeached, her replacement Michel Temer removed the subsidy. Petrobras may be healthier for it, but the price of fuel has skyrocketed for anyone using diesel. Adjustments are often difficult.
But they have been made nearly impossible by what’s going on beyond the cost of keeping Brazil’s trucks, and truckers, moving. Like everywhere else on the planet, Temer’s government claims to have ended the recession and fostered recovery.
That’s true but only in the technical sense; there are now positive economic numbers in Brazil after years of only minus signs.
Há dois anos, assumi o governo do Brasil com uma dura missão: retirar o país da sua mais grave recessão, estancar o desemprego, recuperar a responsabilidade fiscal e manter os programas sociais. De fato, tudo isso foi feito.
What the nationwide strike showed was not just the unrest created by uneasy shippers, it was the massive unease that permeates a country whose economy has shrunk.
Like Italians, Brazilians are starting to get the notion it isn’t coming back.
“We have watched a flirtation with collective suicide,” wrote rightwing commentator Reinaldo Azevedo, who compared Brazilians heading to the polls in October’s congressional and presidential elections to lemmings heading for a clifftop.
Leftist commentators are equally alarmed. “It is a dangerous moment,” said Laura Carvalho, a professor of economy at the University of São Paulo. “This is related to the economic crisis, the political crisis, the corruption scandals.”
Economic malaise or, dare I write, depression is a pressure vessel. Whatever social divisions will always exist wherever on Earth, they become increasingly untenable where hopelessness sets in without the medicine of opportunity. There’s a reason every political regime seeks robust economic growth, it reduces so many even serious social maladies.
The problem since 2008 is that this far into 2018 politicians keep calling it a recovery when it’s not. That can only make things worse, sowing further mistrust and even, as recent events have shown, the very real possibility of total political breakdown. Brazil...