Brazil’s Isolationism

Simon Schwartzman – 6/3/2015

In a world where knowledge, goods, people, and resources are constantly in flux, how does Brazil fare? In terms of its economy, we know that isolationism is greater than we imagine it to be, with exports of goods and services accounting for only 12.6% of GDP in 2013, ranking 177th among the 184 countries for which this information was available, according to the World Bank.

In a recent study published in Brésil(s), a Centre de Recherches sur le Brésil Colonial et Contemporain magazine, also available in English here, Luisa F. Schwartzman and I sought to see what was happening in terms of population flow, especially of highly qualified people, both leaving and entering the country, and what is seen is that isolation is significant. In 1900, there were 1.2 million people born abroad living in Brazil, amounting to 7.2% of the population. In 2010, there were 600 million, or 0.3%. We do not know for certain how many Brazilians live abroad, but an estimate by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2011 said 3.1 million, almost half in the United States, resulting from an exodus that began in the years of the “lost decade” in the 1980’s.

Isolationism is a primitive form of defense that protects companies and individuals in the labor market from competitors and more qualified immigrants; and the departure to abroad can mean, in many instances, important losses of qualified professionals whose education was funded by the government. But isolationism leaves the country on the rim of international flows of culture, knowledge, information, and productive investments, without which the economy does not advance and society does not modernize.

In this paper, we try to look more closely, with the data available, at who leaves Brazil to work or study, what they do while abroad, and what happens to those who return; who are the immigrants that the country continues to welcome, where they live, what they do; we recall the huge contribution that foreign immigrants brought to the development of the economy, science, technology, and higher education in the country, and discuss the latest efforts of internationalization, as well as its limitations.

Read original in Portuguese here.

Simon Schwartzman is a Brazilian social scientist. He has published extensively, with many books, book chapters and academic articles in the areas of comparative politics, sociology of science, social policy, and education

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