28/06/2013 11:51 BST | Updated 28/08/2013 06:12 BST

Brazil: Economics Before Politics or Politics Before Economics?


The part of my degree which I enjoy the most is when I can apply theory and concepts to the real world. After all, concepts shape the world and events in the world then shape new concepts. So when the protests in Brazil started earlier this month, over rising public transport costs alongside people demanding better education and health provision, I instantly thought 'good governance'. Or perhaps the fact that I was just about to give a development politics exam meant that such buzzwords were spinning around in my head. Regardless of this, the protests in Brazil, questioning large amounts of money being spent on the 2014 World Cup, posed another recurring question: Does economics come before politics or politics before economics?

Now is the time to take a step back and explain some of this development jargon. Traditionally government's focused on economic growth and engaged in large projects, such as the World Cup. Such ideas of development were centred on quantitative inputs and outcomes. However, now the development process has been expanded to include ideas of 'good governance' which implies the rule of law, transparency between government officials and the public, provision of services like health and education, and enforcing anti-corruption measures. Please note that this is only a fraction of the 'shopping list' which countries are expected to tick off with regards to good governance. Yet the conditions mentioned are the ones which Brazilian citizens are predominantly protesting about.

Whilst no one can argue that improving government is important and that it would assist further development; one can question whether there is considerable pressure on the Brazilian government to achieve too many goals at once. Brazil is trying to increase its global market share, host one of the biggest sporting events in the world and eradicate corruption within its government. In contrast, when Britain went through its Industrial Revolution, it did not have even half of the democratic ideals that Brazil does. Considerable economic development occurred long before countries had fully institutionalised democracies, rule of law and social welfare services. Britain neglected workers' rights and women did not have the vote; but it had the largest empire in the world. This is not to suggest that a country can trample over minority and women's rights - arguably these are prerequisites for economic growth and development; but it does question the essentialism of this 'shopping list'. Is it simply too ambitious and long?

This has perhaps fuelled the demands of the Brazilian people. A country is expected to achieve so much more with regards to development that equally the people of a country expect more too. What began as protests about rising transport fares, escalated into nationwide movements for better education, healthcare and transport. There is virtually no unemployment in Brazil and once upon a time having job security alongside minimal public service provision would have been sufficient enough for people. However, today, people expect a good quality of public services and this is arguably half of the problem. This would suggest that people are expecting economic and political development to happen side by side, when ironically the majority of developed countries today did not develop in such a way.

The reality is that Brazil is not just developing for itself. If this was the case it would be focusing on provision of public services considerably more. But in an era of globalisation it is staging development for the world and so priorities have changed. Therefore it is easy to criticise the Brazilian government for skewing its development focus, but it has too many actors to please.

Nevertheless, the people of Brazil are especially frustrated about how the government is spending more than $30billion on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics - three times the amount it is spending on its signature anti-poverty program. The tragedy of this is that the average Brazilian citizen probably cannot even afford to attend such prestigious events its own country is hosting. This would suggest that the Brazilian government needs to reassess its priorities to make this 'shopping list' more achievable. No matter how many thousands of people protest, the World Cup will still go ahead in Brazil as planned. Therefore the Brazilian authorities need to find a way of connecting to the people to make them feel a part of this process and event, and not alienate their needs. Consequently, it is not a case of prioritising economics before politics or vice versa. Rather, both kinds of development need to occur side by side, to increase standard of living, even if there are more goals to achieve. Otherwise, the World Cup stadiums, as impressive as they may look, could simply mutate into white elephants.