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Brazil: If I were a rich man ...

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Robin Lustig | 23:13 UK time, Sunday, 21 March 2010

Ask people around the world how happy they think they'll be in five years' time, and who emerges as the most optimistic?

Yes, it's the Brazilians. For millions of them, the past few years have brought greater wealth, more jobs - and with them, it seems, more happiness. In four years' time, Rio will host the World Cup final, and two years later, in 2016, the Olympic Games. What more could anyone want?

Over the past decade, average income for the least well-off in Brazil has risen by more than 70 per cent. For the richest, incomes have risen by just 11 per cent. As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor has narrowed. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 30 million people were lifted out of poverty.

How was it done? Some of it by targeting social welfare programmes like the Bolsa Familia (family benefit) on the very poorest. But according to Marcelo Neri at the Centre for Social Policy here in Rio, that accounts for only about one third of the narrowing of the poverty gap. The rest comes from new jobs in an expanding economy.

Take travel, for example. In a country the size of Brazil, to travel from one end of the country to the other by bus can take several days. Now, millions more people can afford to fly. On one airline alone, 11 per cent of passengers last year had never flown before.
In a Rio electronics shop, they told me that business is booming. Most of their customers who come in for flat-screen TVs, CD players, or air-conditioning units, are buying these goods for the first time. Sales of cars and computers are also rising - and much of the stuff that Brazilians are buying has been made here in Brazil.

But will it last? You may have heard the story about a grasshopper and an ant. The grasshopper spent all summer singing in the sunshine, enjoying himself, while the ant scurried about storing up food for winter. When winter comes, the grasshopper is dying of hunger, while the ant has plenty.

Traditionally, Brazilians have thought of themselves as typical grasshoppers. But if the growth of their economy is to continue, they know that some of them, at least, will have to become ants.


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