Celso Furtado

Leading exponent of development economics
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The Independent Online

Celso Furtado was one of Latin America's most influential economists and social thinkers, a leading exponent of the "developmentalist" school, which argued for state planning, cheap credit and tariff protection as the most effective ways of generating dynamic, self-sustaining growth in poor, peripheral economies. He accepted that such policies would sometimes cause high inflation rates, but argued that economic problems called for more than just economic solutions: action to reduce the poverty and inequality he saw in his native Brazil was as important as economic growth.

Celso Monteiro Furtado, economist and politician: born Pombal, Brazil 26 July 1920; head, Sudene 1959-62; Minister of Planning 1963-64; Professor of Development Economics, University of Paris 1965; Minister of Culture 1986-88; married 1948 Lúcia Tosi (one son), 1979 Rosa Freire d'Aguiar; died Rio de Janeiro 20 November 2004.

Celso Furtado was one of Latin America's most influential economists and social thinkers, a leading exponent of the "developmentalist" school, which argued for state planning, cheap credit and tariff protection as the most effective ways of generating dynamic, self-sustaining growth in poor, peripheral economies. He accepted that such policies would sometimes cause high inflation rates, but argued that economic problems called for more than just economic solutions: action to reduce the poverty and inequality he saw in his native Brazil was as important as economic growth.

Celso Furtado was born into a landowning family in Pombal, in the arid north-east of Brazil, and he made his name as head of a government agency, Sudene, created to drag this backward region out of its eternal stagnation. After school in Recife, he studied law in Rio de Janeiro, graduating in 1943. That year he joined the Brazilian expeditionary force fighting alongside the Allies in Italy, and was wounded during the final offensive. In 1946 he travelled to France to study for a doctorate in economics at the Sorbonne.

In 1949, Furtado joined the newly created United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) in Santiago, Chile, which became a powerhouse of developmentalist theory under the Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch. Back in Brazil, Furtado was appointed president of the national development bank, BNDE, and prepared the report on a development strategy for the north-east that led in 1959 to the creation of the Superintendência de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste (Sudene), based in Recife.

Furtado headed the new agency until, in 1962, he became Brazil's first minister of planning, during the left-of-centre government of President João Goulart. When a group of right-wing generals overthrew Goulart in March 1964, Furtado was singled out for punishment for his progressive views: he was " cassado", meaning that he lost his political rights for 10 years.

Faced with this bleak prospect, he took up an invitation from the University of Paris, where he was appointed Professor of Development Economics - the first foreigner to receive such an honour. During his years of exile, Furtado was visiting professor at a number of the world's leading universities, including Columbia in New York and - in 1973 - Cambridge.

He was able to return to Brazil after the military government granted him an amnesty in 1979, and he became active in opposition politics, as a member of the national executive of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB). In 1985 the newly elected PMDB president, Tancredo Neves, invited Furtado to draft his government programme, and later appointed him Brazilian ambassador to the European Economic Community in Brussels. In 1986, Furtado was appointed minister of culture by Neves' successor, José Sarney, a post he held for just over two years.

After retiring from Brazilian politics, Furtado served for two years on a Unesco committee on culture and development, chaired by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, and from 1996 to 1998 he was a member of Unesco's International Bioethics Committee. In 1997, the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme joined Unesco in organising an international conference celebrating Furtado's contributions to development economics. That year he was elected to the Brazilian Academy.

Furtado was a strong supporter of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who in 2002 became Brazil's first president of working-class origin, and in 2003 the two men attended a ceremony to relaunch Sudene, which had been closed down by the previous government. Celso Furtado was nominated for the Nobel Prize for economics last year.

Furtado's many publications included the seminal Formação econômica do Brasil, first published in Portuguese in 1959, and translated into English as The Economic Growth of Brazil: a survey from colonial to modern times, in 1983. The developmentalism of his youth went out of fashion all over Latin America as protectionism and state intervention failed to deliver the hoped-for growth, and free-market or "neo-liberal" economics swept all before it. But Furtado's ideas have been making something of a comeback, as left-of-centre governments are elected to office all over the continent - including Brazil.

Colin Harding



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