Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Between lawmaking and policy-making: Rui Barbosa and the international dissemination of economics in the turn of the 20th century

Bruzzi Curi Luiz Felipe, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
Cunha Alexandre, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Rui Barbosa (1849-1923) was a Brazilian jurist, politician and journalist who wrote extensively on economic matters. Born in 1849 in Salvador, Bahia, Barbosa graduated from the Law Faculty of São Paulo in 1870. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1878, being elected a Court Deputy, and played a prominent role in Brazilian political life over the following decades. In intellectual terms, his career was one of a jurist who dealt with a broad scope of issues within the domain of law and outside it. His interest in economics was stimulated when he became the first Finance Minister after the Proclamation of the Republic in Brazil (1889). During his tenure, Barbosa managed the beginning of a financial crisis that would not be stemmed until the end of the decade. He also had to deal with the transition from a centralist Monarchy towards a federalist, republican regime. Barbosa was not only one of the juridical architects of this transition, having participated in the elaboration of the Brazilian constitution of 1891, but he also faced the economic consequences of the new federalist regime. As Finance Minister, he had to manage demands from state governments, which squeezed a public budget highly dependent on customs revenues. In order to deal with these economic issues, Barbosa consciously sought to assimilate economic ideas of international circulation which helped him formulate and justify his economic policy. In the official reports, parliamentary speeches and newspaper articles he produced during and especially after his tenure as Finance Minister, Barbosa attempted to rationalize the monetary measures adopted by him to address Brazilian fiscal problems. In this economic discourse targeted at the public sphere rather than at an academic audience, Barbosa mobilized ideas coming from various national lineages of economic thought (all of them well represented in his personal library). He bought and read books on economics from Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United States, which were all part of an exceptionally rich collection for early 20th-century Rio de Janeiro. We argue that Barbosa combined different traditions of thought from the point the view of the legal expert who found himself in the shoes of an economic policymaker. Therefore, the lineages of public finance ascribing an important role to the state, such as German Finanzwissenschaft, as well as attuned developments in other countries, were important sources of ideas for him.

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Keywords: Rui Barbosa, international dissemination of economics, public finance, financial crisis, lawmaking, policy-making

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