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A Brief (Economic) Geography of Brazil

In connection with a series on ADRs, I will also present a brief geographical summary of some less familiar countries, such as Brazil, China, and Russia. (I don't know India well enough to do this for this country.)

Here's Brazil:

With some 3.3 million square miles, Brazil is slightly smaller than the United States (and actually larger than the "lower 48," not counting Alaska and Hawaii). So the two countries can be considered of comparable size. Brazil's population of about 190 million is a little more than half that of the United States.

Perhaps the most important fact about South American (and Southern Hemisphere) countries is that directions are the reverse of the United States. "South" is cooler, and closer to the pole, and "north" is warmer, and closer to the equator.

Brazil has 27 states divided into five main regions. In the extreme south (close to Argentina and Uruguay, and closest to the South Pole) are Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. This is a fertile region that is also blessed with good water transportation, and excellent hydroelectric resources that make for a good balance of agriculture and industry. This can be considered the "New England" of Brazil.

Just north of the far south is what the Brazilians call the center-south or east-south, equivalent to what we might call the mid-Atlantic region in the United States. There are four states in this region, of which the most important is Sao Paulo state, home to Sao Paulo city, in much the same relation as New York state and New York city. This is Brazil's financial center. The other three states are Rio de Janeiro and Espirtu Santo on the coast, and Minas Gerais (general mines) in the interior, which is the home of Brazil's mining and steel industries. Taken as a group, these four states represent Brazil's industrial heartland.

Imagine the United States, not of today, but of a century ago, in which the MidAtlantic States (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), and the Great Lakes Industrial states (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin) together had three-eighths of the U.S. population, and that is the situation of the center-south in Brazil today. The far south and center-south together have only one sixth of Brazil's land area, but over half of its population.

Going north along Brazil's Atlantic coast one arrives in the Northeast (nine states), which becomes progressively poorer and less developed the further north one proceeds, just as going south from say, Philadelphia, would lead one into America's south. And here, we're talking about Brazil's equivalent to the "old Confederacy," not America's "New South." Near the hump of Brazil is the poorest part of the country, Brazil's "Mississippi." The Northeast has about 20% of Brazil's land area, and 30% of its population. Lacking industry, and even good cash crops such as coffee, this part of the land lives largely on subsistence farming. Think "sharecroppers."

The other two parts of Brazil represent its "interior," which accounts for about five-eighths of the country's land area, and only one-seventh of its population.  West of the Northeast is the North (seven states), which is mostly comprised of the Amazon jungle. This is a relatively sparsely populated, but resource rich, part of the country that is underdeveloped, but has access to the Caribbean for its wares, and is not poor on a per capita basis. Much might have been said about Texas, Oklahoma, and points west, with their oil resources and access to the Gulf of Mexico, a century ago.

The remaining (south) western part of the country (four states) is really its interior, because Brazil, unlike the United States, has no Pacific coast. (Imagine if California, Oregon and Washington were independent countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.) This might be equivalent to America's (north) western Great Plains states. Though not particularly fertile, it does produce food surpluses for the other regions.

In 1956-1960, President Kubitschek built a city named Brasilia, in this region, that is now the nation's capital. Similarly, around 1870, the United States toyed with (but didn't follow through on) the idea of moving the capital to St. Louis.