Research Debunks Myth of Reduced Government Leading to Prosperity

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During the TV debate between mayoral candidates Marcelo Crivella and Marcelo Freixo on October 7, Crivella indicated he aims to dismantle public offices and pursue a limited government stance that is highly uncommon to Brazilian politics: “I see the role of the state as smaller and leaner. I would not like to see a larger city government with more jobs, more departments and more companies.”

While campaigning on the premise of cutting public spending is rare in highly-bureaucratic Brazil, it is a common trope for conservative economic policy-makers and supporters of undisturbed capitalism around the world. Though the plans Crivella has made publicly available remain vague, he has advocated for public-private partnerships in public security, healthcare, and education. The ideology is fairly simple: decreasing public spending and regulation, and increasing the flow of resources to the private sector increases efficiency and produces economic growth.

However, a new body of research by American political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson suggests this link between limited government and prosperity is deeply flawed.

In a recent study of US states, the duo found that the states that scored highest across various metrics of prosperity–median household income, life expectancy, patent rate, percent of adults with a college degree, and more–were the states that most utilized regulations and invested most in public education, infrastructure and human services, typically financed by progressive state taxes. The states regularly scoring the worst across all of these metrics were typified as being conservative strongholds where cuts to public spending had been the norm for decades.

In their work, Hacker and Pierson debunk the myth that economic growth and prosperity are the result of small government, arguing that “the key drivers of growth are science, education and innovation, not low taxes, lax regulations or greater exploitation of natural resources.”

In the context of Rio’s already stark economic inequality, such policies could be all the more devastating. Diverting resources away from already struggling public sector programs and urgent, core services like health and education will likely only exacerbate the economic slowdown and wealth disparity. Reducing the role of government in public services could have detrimental effects on the city for years to come. Instead, whichever candidate is elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro this coming weekend should invest intelligently and transparently in public services. Sanitation, health, education, and mobility are all worthwhile investments that leverage greater improvements to the economy and citizens’ well-being.

Marcelo Crivella (left) advocated for reducing public spending at the mayoral debate against Marcelo Freixo (right) on Oct. 7
Marcelo Crivella (left) advocated for reducing public spending at the mayoral debate against Marcelo Freixo (right) on Oct. 7