The Brazil model for reducing hunger and poverty

The former socialist president of Brazil Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva grew up poor and knew what it was like to be hungry as a child. When he took office in 2003, he said that food was a basic human right and launched the Zero Hunger program. Part of it involves government-run restaurants that serve everyone healthy meals at low prices. This Marketplace report describes one such restaurant:

This is Popular Restaurant No. 2. It’s one of five government-run cafeterias in the city where you can get a heaping plate full of hot food for only two reais, about $1.10. When the doors open at 11, people start streaming in. This used to be only for the poor. Now college students sit next to senior citizens, and construction workers next to homeless people; there are nurses from the hospital across the street having lunch here, and cops in uniforms. On the menu today: rice, beans, ground beef, salad and an apple. In an hour and a half, more than 4,000 people get lunch. This happens three times a day, five days a week.

But the government also put into place a web of social services and instituted cash transfers to poor people and encouraged education. As a result, Brazil has become one of the models for how to reduce hunger and poverty.

Food as a basic human right. Providing cheap meals to everyone. Providing social services and cash to poor people. Oh, these Brazilians with their crazy socialist ideas!

Of course, here in the US, we believe in cash transfers too. Except that the money goes from the poor to the rich.


  1. mnb0 says

    You should have added that Brazil since Lula has become president has shown a healthy economical grow.
    At least you will understand why I call Obama right wing.

  2. James says

    Lula may have made it a federal project, but that federal project is based on the reforms started in Belo Horizonte in 1993 by the guy Lula got to head up the federal effort (see this article for further details). By the time Lula came to the presidency, Belo Horizonte’s reforms had been ongoing for nearly a decade and produced massive improvements (e.g. cutting infant mortality by nearly half).

    That’s not to say Lula deserves no credit. The evidence clearly pointed to the success of Belo Horizonte’s experiment, but all too often politicians ignore evidence which doesn’t support their preconceived notions. Abstinence-only sex education, drug criminalisation, etc.

  3. Brea Plum says

    But…but…poor people and working people are mixing! The “po po” is contagious, this must not be allowed! Old and young are sitting side by side, this can not be, they may develop mutual interests and respct! Oh the horror!

  4. mnb0 says

    No idea – but there are lots of people who think they are rational and still call Obama left-wing. I can give you a few Dutch examples, if you like. Begin with Wilders and his entourage.

  5. smrnda says

    I remember reading about the success of these programs on another blog, with most people impressed that such an obviously logical idea was working.

    Then I read a comment by someone who said ‘since when is it’s the government’s job to reduce inequality?’ The person was not stating that inequality would be somehow solved better without government intervention – he was asserting that inequality should persist even while admitting that people were not responsible for being poor. I would argue that such a perspective seems to be shared by quite a few Americans which is why we haven’t been able to implement such sensible solutions that have been shown to work in other nations. It isn’t always that politicians refuse to accept evidence for what works in solving social problems, many outright believe that social problems should not be solved.

  6. Anat says

    Then I read a comment by someone who said ‘since when is it’s the government’s job to reduce inequality?’

    The government’s job is to make the country it represents better. Reducing inequality is part of that. I wonder what that commenter thought the role of government is.

  7. Konradius says

    Well, all Europeans for instance. In america you have a right wing party, a fascist party and maybe an anarchist party (democrats, republicans and libertarians in that order).
    I live in the Netherlands, and our liberals (VVD) are THE right wing party. We have a new right wing party that was set up by Geert Wilders (PVV)*, this party is more in line with the republicans and has to field many complaints of racism. The last incident was about setting up a complain line about eastern european migrant workers.
    And unlike you we have several left wing parties. One is a traditional labour party (PvdA), and another is a newer socialist party (SP), and we have a green leftwing party(Groenlinks).

    The party I support I havn’t even mentioned yet, that would be a liberal, left leaning party (D66)

    Oh yes, and we have 3 christian parties, one extremely fundamentalist (SGP), one average fundamentalist (CU) and one that’s more confused theistic (CDA). That last one also has moslem members in official positions for instance.

    And last but not least, we have a party dedicated to animal rights (PvdD). Least would be the one man party of Hero Brinkman, formerly of the PVV.

    Yes, we in the Netherlands have 11 parties in our version of congress (2de kamer). Say what you want, but we have a lively democracy.

    * as much as I hate Geert Wilders, he would be a total RINO if set loose in Arizona. He wouldn’t be even viable as a democrat there, not in the least because he’s an atheist and he’s pro gay rights incl. marriage.

  8. Konradius says

    Um, clarification, Europeans do think Obama is right wing. The n’t did not register correctly…
    And mnb0: the link PVV-Republicans does start to make more sense. Not only in thinking Obama is left wing, but also in the discussions about party finances and the rumour large sums are getting donated from foreign (US) sources

  9. smrnda says

    If I had to guess, I think the commenter thought that the role of government was solely to protect private property rights, which means (of course) advocating for the rights of the wealthy against the interests of anybody else, regardless of negative social outcomes.

    I wish that perspective wasn’t so popular in the states, but it’s out there.


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