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Brazil’s Populist Temptation

After a series of disastrous governments, October’s general election will give Brazilians a chance to chart a new course for their country. But with populist politicians leading in the polls, the country may instead be headed for a period of prolonged social, political, and economic turmoil.

SÃO PAULO – Latin America’s largest economy is in the midst of a prolonged political crisis, aggravated by the appeal of populism. Like a drug, populism has attracted Brazilians with fanciful promises of higher living standards and enhanced well-being. But, for 16 years, the country’s populist presidents have presided over record-high unemployment, skyrocketing budget deficits, a return to poverty for millions, and the worst economic recession in a century.

Populists have also left a legacy of corruption. The “Operation Car Wash” scandal exposed a huge cast of dishonest politicians, criminal civil servants, and shady business leaders – all of whom enriched themselves by stealing from the state.

One might assume that Brazilians, after enduring so many governance disasters, would be eager for change. We will find out if that’s true in October, when voters head to the polls for a critically important general election. For now, however, Brazil appears unwilling to kick its populist habit. On the contrary, populism has never been stronger.

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