- Inequality in the Portuguese-Speaking World: Global and Historical Perspectives by Francisco Bethencourt
Organized around the theme of inequality in the Portuguese-speaking world, but predominantly weighted towards studies of Portugal and Brazil with cameo appearances by Mozambique and Angola, this volume contains 14 chapters by professors of anthropology, history, art history, economic history, economics, romance literature, political science, social studies, and Portuguese and Luso-African Studies. The book opens with an excellent overview of the definitions, interpretations, and history of inequality by Francisco Bethencourt, the driving force behind the volume, to set the stage for the varied experiences of inequality in Portugal's colonies. Subsequent chapters are organized into three parts.
Part I, "Modern Social Inequality," has two chapters on Brazil and three on Portugal. Lilia Moritz Schwarcz reviews Brazil's legacy of slavery to discuss the relationship between racism and inequality in Brazil around the turn of the twentieth century, through data on differential access to social goods like public health, housing and educational opportunity. Although written in the present tense, her data are more than a decade old, begging the question of whether the advances in social spending under the Lula and Rousseff governments improved the picture. Celia Lessa Kerstenetzky's excellent chapter goes a long way to answering this question. Focusing on the gains between 2004 and 2014, she offers a structured analysis of the factors that contributed to improvements in inequality, especially the valorization of the minimum wage, and the reasons why the gains can be easily reversed. She points to missed opportunities to restructure taxes away from regressive consumption taxes and to invest in public services for lasting welfare improvements.
The importance of tax policy and social spending for worsening or fighting inequality is a theme carried through the next three chapters on Portugal, which is one of the most unequal of the EU countries. Moving forward and backward through time from the 2009 crisis to the present day and then back to the Estado Novo, contributions by Carlos Farinha Rodrigues, Tiago Fernandes, and Pedro Ramos Pinto tackle the politics and policies behind Portugal's inequality. Rodrigues chronicles the contemporary surge in inequality in consequence of austerity programs to address the Great Recession. He finds that income inequality, [End Page E1] material deprivation, and rates of social exclusion rose from 2009 to 2014, especially among the most vulnerable groups in the population, women and children. Fernandes picks up the tale in 2015, when a leftist coalition took over the government to reverse the austerity policies of the government it replaced. His analysis shows how the right wing used the crisis to undo social welfare programs in place since 1974 and pass policies favorable to capital. The return of the left and subsequent improvement in inequality indicators, he argues, was made possible by the political legacy of cooperation pathways forged in 1974. Pinto's chapter on the Estado Novo travels back in time to examine the origins of Portugal's modern inequality, a sort of prequel to Fernandes's work. Here, we learn how the state used fiscal and welfare policies in its attempt to produce the ideal obedient, compliant citizens and to reward supporters of the corporatist regime, introducing inequality that pre-dated Portugal's economic modernization.
Three of the four contributions in Part II, "Postcolonial Identities," are less clearly related to the theme of the volume, other than that their subjects are drawn from traditionally marginalized communities. Laurent Vidal writes of the syncopated rhythms of "slow men" in nineteenth-century Brazil, who resisted the pace of modernity and, in doing so, created their own culture and exercised a sort of control over their lives. Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho reviews the history of Brazilian literature to show that the peripheral members of society were, until recently, more often subjects than authors of their own stories. He celebrates the new emergence of marginalized voices in literary production. Hilary Owen's analysis of depictions of women in post-colonial Mozambican filmmaking takes on questions of vulnerability and power in the process of remaking...