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The Public Good and the Brazilian State

Municipal Finance and Public Services in São Paulo, 1822–1930

Who and what a government taxes, and how the government spends the money collected, are questions of primary concern to governments large and small, national and local. When public revenues pay for high-quality infrastructure and social services, citizens thrive and crises are averted. When public revenues are inadequate to provide those goods, inequality thrives and communities can verge into unrest—as evidenced by the riots during Greece’s financial meltdown and by the needless loss of life in Haiti’s collapse in the wake of the earthquake.

In The Public Good and the Brazilian State, Anne G. Hanley assembles an economic history of public revenues as they developed in nineteenth-century Brazil. Specifically, Hanley investigates the financial life of the municipality—a district comparable to the county in the United States—to understand how the local state organized and prioritized the provision of public services, what revenues paid for those services, and what happened when the revenues collected failed to satisfy local needs. Through detailed analyses of municipal ordinances, mayoral reports, citizen complaints, and financial documents, Hanley sheds light on the evolution of public finance and its effect on the early economic development of Brazilian society. This deeply researched book offers valuable insights for anyone seeking to better understand how municipal finance informs histories of inequality and underdevelopment. 

See the supplementary data files for the book.

288 pages | 5 line drawings, 32 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Markets and Governments in Economic History

Economics and Business: Economics--Government Finance, Economics--History, Economics--Urban and Regional

History: Urban History


The Public Good and the Brazilian State dives deep into the interstices of municipal public goods. Stepping back from the more expected econometric analyses, this book displays the actual goods provided and the choices and trade-offs that municipalities had to make in order to meet their obligations to citizens. Slaughterhouses, vaccination centers, hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, drainage systems, water fountains, and public buildings are the stuff of this book. Hanley's richly detailed and carefully researched account will make strong contributions to the histories of municipal finance and Brazil, as well as the field of urban history more broadly.” 

Gail D. Triner, Rutgers University

“The question of inequality is currently a central issue for scholars across the disciplines.  Anne Hanley’s superb historical study of municipal finances in the Brazilian state of São Paulo adds a new and critical dimension to this discussion. The Public Good and the Brazilian State demonstrates that an analysis of durable inequalities in Brazilian society must include the system of tax collection and revenue distribution that emerged following independence—a system that saddled municipal governments with the responsibility for providing crucial services but left them with resources that were woefully inadequate to the task, even in Brazil’s burgeoning coffee zone. The result was a severely underserved citizenry and an absence of mechanisms to address the enduring problem of inequality in Brazilian society.”

Barbara Weinstein, New York University

“Hanley’s incredible sleuthing and archival work have produced the most complete study of local governments and finance in Brazil. She shows that the stark socioeconomic and regional inequalities in Brazil emerge not just out of the rise of the export economy but also out of the inability of municipalities to benefit from one of the world’s most dynamic export economies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Marshall C. Eakin, Vanderbilt University

"The Public Good and the Brazilian State offers a richly detailed account of both the sources of fiscal revenue and the spending pattern of seven of the largest and richest municipalities in the state of São Paulo from imperial to republican Brazil." 

Latin American Research Review


Latin American Studies Association, Brazil section: LASA Brazil Section Book Prize
Honorable Mention

Brazilian Studies Association: Warren Dean Memorial Prize
Honorable Mention

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