Brazilians have a self-deprecating sense of national pride. They sheepishly accept Brazil’s inability to join the club of rich and powerful nations with the oft-heard joke that “Brazil is the country of the future … and always will be!”
This national frustration is borne of long experience. Brazil had the world’s fastest-growing economy in the first half of the 20th century, but by the 1970s growth had stalled. As the population boomed, wages fell. Crumbling infrastructure, a protected domestic economy and burdensome regulations made it hard for Brazilian products to compete on the world market. Inferior schools and a weak job market left millions in poverty, and by 1980 Brazil was competing with Haiti for the title of most-unequal country in the world.
Brazil appeared poised to finally shed this reputation as a perennial underachiever in the 1990s, when its leaders implemented smart economic policies. It got its fiscal house in order, and by the 2000s the economy was booming. Wages went up, while inflation and inequality went down. The government expanded social-welfare programs, unemployment fell and millions entered the middle class. Brazil was also lucky, discovering massive oil deposits in its offshore waters. It also played the global public-relations game well, winning both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.