NEW HAVEN, Connecticut — With October elections fast approaching in Brazil, candidates have begun to declare their intent and intentions for office. Amid the race for Federal Deputy (the Brazilian equivalent of a House Representative) is Daniel Jose, a young state deputy for São Paulo with ambitious plans. Raised in a small semi-rural town as the youngest child of 11, Daniel Jose believes that Brazil’s tax and education systems are fundamentally flawed, hurting lower-income citizens. To him, Brazil’s way forward will include reforms that improve the lives of his 9.3 million countrymen living in poverty, as of 2020.
Daniel Jose’s Campaign
In an interview with The Borgen Project at the dawn of the campaign season, Daniel Jose spoke about the tax laws and economic policies that hamper Brazil’s progress. He noted three particularly important areas for growth: bureaucracy, investments and education. To Daniel Jose, this project will last “decades, many years, but it is a legacy that justifies being a politician.”
The first major area he addressed was administrative reform, which he believes limits the ability of Brazilians to escape poverty. Daniel Jose mentioned that public servants were chosen through an exam, and not “in an interview that measures their aptitude for their particular function.” As data that the World Bank has collected has shown, this has led to above-average bureaucratic inefficiency, limiting the government’s ability to effectively run anti-poverty programs.
Complimenting this institutional weakness is Brazil’s complicated tax structure. During the interview, Daniel Jose emphasized that Brazil’s taxes and subsidies for different products were based on arbitrary definitions constantly in flux, eroding the confidence of foreign investors. An example he gave was Crocs, which Brazil used to tax as sandals, but then treated as shoes, altering its taxation rules overnight. In aggregate, these confusing rules deter international corporations from investing in Brazil, cutting off a way forward for the country.
Perhaps the most harmful of Brazil’s tax systems is its heavy regressive sales taxes. Referencing a study done by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), he highlighted that sales taxes in Brazil “are responsible for one-third of the inequality in the country” punishing lower-income Brazilians who spend relatively higher portions of their incomes.
Daniel Jose spoke at length about educational reform, highlighting its role as Brazil’s way forward. He first noted how pandemic shutdowns had damaged the country’s public education system. Illiteracy rose from 35% to an unprecedented 52% amongst low-income children, with a similar increase seen in middle and high-income students. He also suggested there was not enough emphasis on improving students’ lives in public education, joking “there is a union for teachers, but no union for students. That’s my job.”
However, he does not view the problem as permanent. Reflecting on his term as a deputy in the state of São Paulo, he drew focus on a law he passed that gave the highest performing public schools in the state additional funding. Daniel Jose also stressed that this program would also work at the national level, with the government in Brasilia distributing funds to municipalities across the country.
Commenting on Brazil’s long-term potential, he focused on the need to improve the technology and methodology of the country’s public schools. Given the limited access to computers and basic schooling equipment, Daniel Jose remarked that “at the lowest incomes these small changes make the most difference.” Looking ahead to the election on October 2, 2022, elections he acknowledged the difficulty of passing these reforms, but also the necessity of small institutional changes to “have everyone working towards the same north, and … to turn Brazil from an Argentina into an Australia.”
– Samuel Bowles