State and coalitions in Brazil (2003-2016)

Image: Jenny Olsson


Commentary on Marcus Ianoni's book

State and coalitions in Brazil (2003-2016): social-developmentalism and neoliberalism seeks to make a broad picture of the main political, economic and social transformations engendered throughout the experience of government of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), the largest leftist party in Latin America and which, between 2003 and 2016, was at the head of the Executive in the Brazil.

Marcus Ianoni's book sheds new light on interesting theoretical and empirical challenges to Brazilian political science: on the one hand, it seeks to overcome the stagnation between institutionalist and sociopolitical literature, inviting the reader to establish links between the societal and institutional coalitions that operate in the political arena, through what he calls an expanded approach to coalitions. The author also seeks to analyze the realignments between the main coalitions – classified as neoliberal and social-developmentalist, according to the preferences of each one in the face of the main economic variables – in the Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff governments, bringing his explanation about the controversial deposition of the president in 2016.

The classification made by the author of the PT experience as social-developmentalist, representing a paradigm of political economy different from the classic and exclusionary national-developmentalism that marked Brazil during the process of import-substituting industrialization in the 20th century, proves to be accurate. After all, it allows so much to highlight an emphatic content of economic policy on social inclusion, although incapable of leveraging - within a context of financial globalization hostile to industrialist initiatives - a transformation of the country's productive structure with greater technological sophistication or strengthening of the sector manufacturing, how much to distinguish it from neoliberalism and its emphasis on monetary stability according to the precepts of neoclassical economics.

The main hypothesis operated in this work is that both the successes and failures in materializing the PT's social-developmentalist economic strategy are explained by the accumulation of power resources by the different coalition forces, ranging from actors representing capital and labor to elites. policies, public bureaucracy and civil society movements. After all, political decisions in the author's sense are influenced and determined by structural characteristics of the relations between State and market in capitalism; and also by the interests of social actors imbued with effective power resources who, because they are located in different sectors of the social fabric and are distinguished by ideological cleavages, coalesce hierarchically, both in a formal and informal dimension.

Theoretically and methodologically, not detracting from the contributions of existing approaches on party coalitions used to a large extent by political scientists, Marcus Ianoni seeks to go beyond them with a perspective that permeates coalition presidentialism. In this analytical key, formal political institutions would be insufficient for a reliable understanding of the recent transformations of the national reality.

For this reason, it deems it essential to map from external factors (conjunctural, related to changes in the international division of labor) to structural elements and a wide range of social actors, holders of agency power and capable of conditioning the performance of the state apparatus even if it does not are inserted. These mapped factors are precisely its explanatory variables. The analysis of macroeconomic policy, particularly of the macroeconomic tripod that constitutes the main architecture governing the Brazilian productive system since the end of the 1990s, is in turn the explained variable that guides Ianoni in his study of disputes between different interest groups .[1]

The author is happy to choose macroeconomic policy as a test case for his analytical model: the set of fiscal, exchange rate and monetary policies has an impact on the entire public agenda and, therefore, on the distributional conflict. Furthermore, these are highly insulated policies from Congress – which is particularly notable in the case of exchange rate and monetary policies –, but permeable to the interests of big capitalists.[2]

Thus, in summary, for Marcus Ianoni, only an expanded approach to coalitions globally explains the links between societal actors – with the business community in particular, but also the media (strongly influencing public debate) and other civil society movements such as those emerging after the June 2013 protests –, political actors – including in Congress – and bureaucratic elites. The interpretation of these links makes it possible to analyze the socio-political environment exogenous to the State and also the content of public policies – in particular macroeconomic policy – ​​and their effects on the distributive conflict; which, ultimately, are the keys to understanding the disputes and consensus that allowed governability during the Lula government, but led to Dilma’s deposition in 2016.

In chapter 1, “Towards a broader approach to coalitions”, Marcus Ianoni dives into a thorough and insightful review of the existing literature on the topic, starting with a critique of hegemonic neo-institutionalism in Brazil, in particular that dedicated to unraveling the mechanisms of coalition presidentialism . For him, it is a perspective with too much endogenous appeal, being reductionist for ignoring elements that are alien to the concrete political and electoral system and ignoring exogenous influences on institutional arenas on the behavior of political actors. This literature, moreover, emphasizes the formal aspects associated with votes in Congress, but does not evaluate the content of specific laws and policies, crucial in defining the public agenda and which are, as a rule, framed as exceptions in the analytical models formulated by this strand. .

In this way, the content of policies matters, as well as the reasons why they were approved or rejected by Congress; or, yet, were implemented by default. In this sense, it highlights the importance of the end of the CPMF in 2007 for the business community – which was overthrown despite the broad majority coalition and high popularity that Lula had at the time – and the establishment by decree of the inflation targeting regime – and, therefore, , without consulting the parliamentarians –, still in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This and several cases listed in the chapter show how views that are excessively centered on “accounting” institutional aspects fail to explain issues that are determined by extraneous, exogenous or simply more complex factors. After all, social coalitions are part of a complex interconnection between structures and agencies, not necessarily being formalized within the representative framework of the State.

It should also be noted that, in Brazilian political science, knowledge has been produced in a segmented way, sometimes focusing on the parliamentary arena, sometimes public bureaucracy, sometimes the links between business and the State. The delimitation brought by the literature aims to bring hypotheses that can be empirically tested through a careful and objective data collection, contributing to confer scientificity to the work of Brazilian political scientists, who have sought, in the last thirty years, to disentangle themselves from the essayistic tradition.

However, as pointed out by Marcus Ianoni, the mainstream theorist of Political Science in the country – in particular, neo-institutionalism – failed miserably to predict and explain the consequences of the political crisis that led to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. This literature had been attesting and ratifying the governability of Brazilian democracy in the last twenty years, which suddenly ceased to occur.

In chapter 2, “Coalitions and macroeconomic policy in the Lula governments: from the rigid tripod to the flexible tripod”, Marcus Ianoni finally moves from the theoretical review to the radiography of the Brazilian political economy, focusing on the construction of the social-developmentalist coalition in Brazil – already defined in the introduction –, which was in constant tension with the objectives of the neoliberal coalition, hegemonic during the 1990s. The author is particularly interested in understanding the reasons behind making an alliance with the productive sector, the business arm of the CSD, finding Limits.

The maximum product of such a coalition would have been the flexibility of the macroeconomic tripod, the result of the gradual accumulation of power resources arising from the change in the relative correlation of forces between capital and labor achieved with the election of Lula in 2002. For him, this new correlation favored a partial convergence between the national business community and salaried workers, with a whole new range of economic and social policies now prioritizing the productive sector (vis-à-vis rentier finance) and the fight against poverty.

The meager results of maintaining the rigid tripod during the FHC government, side by side with a new favorable international situation marked by the boom in commodities caused by the Chinese appetite, then led Lula to establish, in his second term, the flexible tripod – a term that Marcus Ianoni uses from José Luís Oreiro. Inflation and primary surplus targets were relaxed, allowing for an increase in public investments (mainly via the Growth Acceleration Program) and the establishment of a development test wage-led, through consistent policies to value the minimum wage. A tripod strained, on the one hand, by the impact of the political influence of the coalition's component forces, but, on the other hand, held back by what Marcus Ianoni calls the structural, institutional and ideological power of finance (p. 28). This easing of the macroeconomic tripod would later be deepened with the New Economic Matrix (NME) in the Dilma government, on which Marcus Ianoni will dwell in the third chapter.

The dual dissatisfaction of businessmen and workers, therefore, constituted the objective and structural basis for the formation of the social-developmentalist coalition; and its impacts were the product both of real contradictory processes and of mediations engendered by institutions and political elites. Even so, even such a productivist coalition did not manage to break with the liberal structure erected by the previous government, with the tripod never being abandoned and, in addition, high interest rates and an overvalued exchange rate remaining as refractory elements to a successful development strategy in promoting of productive investments and structural change, within a “macroeconomics of stagnation” originally coined by Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira. The positive performance of the GDP, however, served during the Lula government as a guarantor next to the center, in the midst of an eclectic coalition suffering the triple influence of the financial sector, businessmen of the productive sector and workers on the policymaking state.

Finally, in chapter 3, “Coalitions and macroeconomic policy in the Dilma governments: from the flexible tripod to the rigid tripod”, Marcus Ianoni argues that the changes in macroeconomic policy promoted during the Dilma I government contribute to the understanding of the presidential deposition. It is in this chapter, where the author makes extensive use of the contributions of Peter Gourevitch for the interpretation of the crisis that would affect the president, is that his sociopolitical analysis acquires more relevance and also the richest in terms of bringing to light the discussion about the actors and intricacies not formally circumscribed within the state sphere.

In Dilma's first government, as noted, the easing of the macroeconomic tripod started with Lula continued, again resulting from influences on the State of contradictory interests inserted in the core of the social-developmentalist coalition. However, in terms of practical results, there began to be a mismatch between the main economic variables in order to make the existing capital-work concertation incompatible: the positive performance of indicators such as employment and income distribution, important for workers, but terrible in terms of of growth, inflation, fiscal balance and exchange rate policy (sensitive to the business community in general), created an unfavorable and unsustainable environment for the maintenance and advancement of the coalition.

Thus, if Dilma's first term is marked by a simultaneous accommodation and dispute between the interests coalescing around macroeconomic policy, in her second term the tone is dictated by the political dispute, in which the neoliberal coalition that unites the productive sectors emerges victorious. and financial-rentier against the workers. This realignment pressured the president, in her second term, to return to the rigid tripod – directly contradicting the promises made during the fierce electoral campaign –, culminating in the loss of popularity, impeachment and radicalization of the neoliberal agenda with the Temer government, through the approval of the labor reform and the freezing of the increase in public spending through the Constitution, limiting the State's investment capacity.

From 2013 onwards, the social-developmentalist coalition began to disintegrate and give way to economic orthodoxy, which was rehearsed in the short Dilma II government through an austerity and strongly pro-cyclical fiscal policy, reinforcing the rapid increase in unemployment and the disintegration of forces social groups that still supported the president. The consequent period is marked by mass protests, new forces and political actors leading a conservative turn in the streets, converging to an opposition movement centered on the theme of corruption specific to the PT government, the central target of the protests.

In these protests, the media oligopoly played a key role in pro-opposition and pro-impeachment communication, disseminating a narrative about corruption events that criminally centered on the government and PT cadres – until then leading a project of social transformation alternative to the exclusively market-oriented – deeper issues linked to the political system and of a broader nature.

A central aspect of this reinvigoration of neoliberal conservatism was precisely the governmental loss of the public opinion battle, both on macroeconomic policy and on the image of the party itself, showing the importance of considering actors and processes that are not captured by institutionalist analysis. Therefore, according to Marcus Ianoni, the proposed marriage between the political-institutional and sociopolitical visions is justified.

By way of conclusion, in the quest to weave a broad analysis of the multifaceted Brazilian crisis, if Marcus Ianoni on the one hand “sacrifices” a little of the specificity and detail of a particular field, on the other hand he offers readers a succinct assessment of the situation that certainly captures the key events and the most relevant points that marked the governments of Lula and Dilma – of course, always with macroeconomic policy being the amalgam between them.

In this sense, the present book becomes an obligatory reference for understanding the period, both for those wishing to understand the nuances of the Policies how much of politics permeating the successes and misadventures of the PT experience.

* Roberta Rodrigues Marques da Silva Professor at the Department of Political Science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

*Rafael Shoenmann de Moura and ppostdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Originally published in the magazine Theory and debate.


Marcus Ianoni. State and coalitions in Brazil (2003-2016): social-developmentalism and neoliberalism. Rio de Janeiro, Counterpoint, 2018, 208 pages (


[1] The macroeconomic tripod, established in 1999, is a set of three axes that would guide the Brazilian economy. It comprises the adoption of a floating exchange rate (determined by capital movements and with occasional government interference through monetary policy), primary surpluses (to equate the relationship between public debt and gross domestic product/GDP) and targets of inflation. To see:

[2] It is interesting to note, however, that this choice allows the author not to dwell on the nexus between societal coalitions and coalitions in the congressional arena, which is left to the future research agenda.

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