Economic Growth and Change

Portugal Table of Contents

Portugal's First Republic (1910-26) became, in the words of historian Douglas L. Wheeler, "midwife to Europe's longest surviving authoritarian system." Under the sixteen-year parliamentary regime of the republic with its forty-five governments, growing fiscal deficits financed by money creation and foreign borrowing climaxed in hyper-inflation and a moratorium on Portugal's external debt service. The cost of living around 1926 was thirty times what it had been in 1914. Fiscal imprudence and accelerating inflation gave way to massive capital flight, crippling domestic investment. Burgeoning public sector employment during the First Republic was accompanied by a perverse shrinkage in the share of the industrial labor force in total employment. Although some headway was made toward increasing the level of literacy under the parliamentary regime, 68.1 percent of Portugal's population was still classified as illiterate by the 1930 census.

The Economy of the Salazar Regime

The First Republic was ended by a military coup in May 1926, but the newly installed government failed to solve the nation's precarious financial situation. Instead, President Óscar Fragoso Carmona invited António de Oliveira Salazar to head the Ministry of Finance, and the latter agreed to accept the position provided he would have veto power over all fiscal expenditures. At the time of his appointment as minister of finance in 1928, Salazar held the Chair of Economics at the University of Coimbra and was considered by his peers to be Portugal's most distinguished authority on inflation. For forty years, first as minister of finance (1928-32) and then as prime minister (1932-68), Salazar's political and economic doctrines were to shape the Portuguese destiny.

From the perspective of the financial chaos of the republican period, it was not surprising that Salazar considered the principles of a balanced budget and monetary stability as categorical imperatives. By restoring equilibrium both in the fiscal budget and in the balance of international payments, Salazar succeeded in restoring Portugal's credit worthiness at home and abroad. Because Portugal's fiscal accounts from the 1930s until the early 1960s almost always had a surplus in the current account, the state had the wherewithal to finance public infrastructure projects without resorting either to inflationary financing or to borrowing abroad.

At the bottom of the Great Depression, Premier Salazar laid the foundations for his Estado Novo, the "New State." Neither capitalist nor communist, Portugal's economy was cast into a quasi-traditional mold. The corporative framework within which the Portuguese economy evolved combined two salient characteristics: extensive state regulation and predominantly private ownership of the means of production. Leading financiers and industrialists accepted extensive bureaucratic controls in return for assurances of minimal public ownership of economic enterprises and certain monopolistic (or restricted-competition) privileges.

Within this framework, the state exercised extensive de facto authority regarding private investment decisions and the level of wages. A system of industrial licensing (condicionamento industrial), introduced by law in 1931, required prior authorization from the state for setting up or relocating an industrial plant. Investment in machinery and equipment designed to increase the capacity of an existing firm also required government approval. Although the political system was ostensibly corporatist, as political scientist Howard J. Wiarda makes clear, "In reality both labor and capital--and indeed the entire corporate institutional network--were subordinate to the central state apparatus."

Under the old regime, Portugal's private sector was dominated by some forty great families. These industrial dynasties were allied by marriage with the large, traditional landowning families of the nobility, who held most of the arable land in the southern part of the country in great estates. Many of these dynasties had business interests in Portuguese Africa. Within this elite group, the top ten families owned all the important commercial banks, which in turn controlled a disproportionate share of the national economy. Because bank officials were often members of the boards of directors of borrowing firms in whose stock the banks participated, the influence of the large banks extended to a host of commercial, industrial, and service enterprises.

Portugal's shift toward a moderately outward-looking trade and financial strategy, initiated in the late 1950s, gained momentum during the early 1960s. A growing number of industrialists, as well as government technocrats, favored greater Portuguese integration with the industrial countries to the north as a badly needed stimulus to Portugal's economy. The rising influence of the Europe-oriented technocrats within Salazar's cabinet was confirmed by the substantial increase in the foreign investment component in projected capital formation between the first (1953-58) and second (1959-64) economic development plans. The first plan called for a foreign investment component of less than 6 percent, but the plan for the 1959-64 period envisioned a 25-percent contribution. The newly influential Europe-oriented industrial and technical groups persuaded Salazar that Portugal should become a charter member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) when it was organized in 1959. In the following year, Portugal also added its membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank.

In 1958 when the Portuguese government announced the 1959-64 Six-Year Plan for National Development, a decision had been reached to accelerate the country's rate of economic growth--a decision whose urgency grew with the outbreak of guerrilla warfare in Angola in 1961 and in Portugal's other African territories thereafter. Salazar and his policy advisers recognized that additional claims by the state on national output for military expenditures, as well as for increased transfers of official investment to the "overseas provinces," could only be met by a sharp rise in the country's productive capacity. Salazar's commitment to preserving Portugal's "multiracial, pluricontinental" state led him reluctantly to seek external credits beginning in 1962, an action from which the Portuguese treasury had abstained for several decades.

Beyond military measures, the official Portuguese response to the "winds of change" in the African colonies was to integrate them administratively and economically more closely with Portugal through population and capital transfers, trade liberalization, and the creation of a common currency--the so-called Escudo Area. The integration program established in 1961 provided for the removal of Portugal's duties on imports from its overseas territories by January 1964. The latter, on the other hand, were permitted to continue to levy duties on goods imported from Portugal but at a preferential rate, in most cases 50 percent of the normal duties levied by the territories on goods originating outside the Escudo Area. The effect of this two-tier tariff system was to give Portugal's exports preferential access to its colonial markets.

Despite the opposition of protectionist interests, the Portuguese government succeeded in bringing about some liberalization of the industrial licensing system, as well as in reducing trade barriers to conform with EFTA and GATT agreements. The last years of the Salazar era witnessed the creation of important privately organized ventures, including an integrated iron and steel mill, a modern ship repair and shipbuilding complex, vehicle assembly plants, oil refineries, petrochemical plants, pulp and paper mills, and electronic plants. As economist Valentina Xavier Pintado observed, "Behind the facade of an aged Salazar, Portugal knew deep and lasting changes during the 1960s."

The liberalization of the Portuguese economy continued under Salazar's successor, Prime Minister Marcello José das Neves Caetano (1968-74), whose administration abolished industrial licensing requirements for firms in most sectors and in 1972 signed a free trade agreement with the newly enlarged EC. Under the agreement, which took effect at the beginning of 1973, Portugal was given until 1980 to abolish its restrictions on most community goods and until 1985 on certain sensitive products amounting to some 10 percent of the EC's total exports to Portugal. EFTA membership and a growing foreign investor presence contributed to Portugal's industrial modernization and export diversification between 1960 and 1973.

Notwithstanding the concentration of the means of production in the hands of a small number of family-based financial-industrial groups, Portuguese business culture permitted a surprising upward mobility of university-educated individuals with middle-class backgrounds into professional management careers. Before the revolution, the largest, most technologically advanced (and most recently organized) firms offered the greatest opportunity for management careers based on merit rather than on accident of birth.

Changing Structure of the Economy

The Portuguese economy had changed significantly by 1973, compared with its position in 1961. Total output (GDP at factor cost) grew by 120 percent in real terms. The industrial sector was three times greater, and the size of the services sector doubled; but agriculture, forestry, and fishing advanced by only 16 percent. Manufacturing, the major component of the secondary sector, was three times as large at the end of the period. Industrial expansion was concentrated in large-scale enterprises using modern technology.

The composition of GDP also changed markedly from 1961 to 1973. The share of the primary sector (agriculture, forestry, and fishing) in GDP shrank from 23 percent in 1961 to 16.8 percent in 1973, and the contribution of the secondary (or industrial) sector (manufacturing, construction, mining, and electricity, gas and water) increased from 37 percent to 44 percent during the period. The services sector's share in GDP remained constant at 39.4 percent between 1961 and 1973. Within the industrial sector, the contribution of manufacturing advanced from 30 percent to 35 percent and that of construction from 4.6 percent to 6.4 percent.

The progressive "opening" of Portugal to the world economy was reflected in the growing shares of exports and imports (both visible and invisible) in national output and income. Further, the composition of Portugal's balance of international payments altered substantially. From 1960 to 1973, the merchandise trade deficit widened, but owing to a growing surplus on invisibles--including tourist receipts and emigrant worker remittances--the deficit in the current account gave way to a surplus from 1965 onward. Beginning with that year, the long-term capital account typically registered a deficit, the counterpart of the current account surplus. Even though the nation attracted a rising level of capital from abroad (both direct investments and loans), official and private Portuguese investments in the "overseas territories" were greater still--hence the net outflow on the long-term capital account.

The growth rate of Portuguese merchandise exports during the period 1959 to 1973 was 11 percent per annum. In 1960 the bulk of exports was accounted for by a few products--canned fish, raw and manufactured cork, cotton textiles, and wine. By contrast, in the early 1970s, Portugal's export list reflected significant product diversification, including both consumer and capital goods. Several branches of Portuguese industry became export-oriented, and in 1973 over one-fifth of Portuguese manufactured output was exported.

The radical nationalization-expropriation measures in the mid-1970s were initially accompanied by a policy-induced redistribution of national income from property owners, entrepreneurs, and private managers and professionals to industrial and agricultural workers. This wage explosion favoring workers with a high propensity to consume had a dramatic impact on the nation's economic growth and pattern of expenditures. Private and public consumption combined rose from 81 percent of domestic expenditure in 1973 to nearly 102 percent in 1975. The counterpart of overconsumption in the face of declining national output was a contraction in both savings and fixed capital formation, depletion of stocks, and a huge balance-of-payments deficit. The rapid increase in production costs associated with the surge in unit labor costs between 1973 and 1975 contributed significantly to the decline in Portugal's ability to compete in foreign markets. Real exports fell between 1973 and 1976, and their share in total expenditures declined from nearly 26 percent to 16.5 percent.

The economic dislocations of metropolitan Portugal associated with the income leveling and nationalization-expropriation measures were exacerbated by the sudden loss of the nation's African colonies in 1974 and 1975 and the reabsorption of overseas settlers (the so-called retornados), the global recession, and, as well, the international energy crisis.

Over the longer period, 1973-90, the composition of Portugal's GDP at factor cost changed significantly. The contribution of agriculture, forestry, and fishing as a share of total production continued its inexorable decline, to 6.1 percent in 1990 from 12.2 percent in 1973. In contrast to the prerevolutionary period, 1961-73, when the industrial sector grew by 9 percent annually and its contribution to GDP expanded, industry's share narrowed to 38.4 percent of GDP in 1990 from 44 percent in 1973. Manufacturing, the major component of the industrial sector, contributed relatively less to GDP in 1990 (28 percent) than in 1973 (35 percent). Most striking was the 16- percentage-point increase in the participation of the services sector from 39 percent of GDP in 1973 to 55.5 percent in 1990. Most of this growth reflected the proliferation of civil service employment and the associated cost of public administration, together with the dynamic contribution of tourism services during the 1980s.

Economic Growth, 1960-73 and 1981-90

There was a striking contrast between the economic growth and levels of capital formation in the 1960-73 period and in the 1980s decade. Clearly, the pre-revolutionary period was characterized by robust annual growth rates for GDP (6.9 percent), industrial production (9 percent), private consumption (6.5 percent), and gross fixed capital formation (7.8 percent). By way of contrast, the 1980s exhibited a pattern of slow-to-moderate annual growth rates for GDP (2.7 percent), industrial production (4.8 percent), private consumption (2.7 percent), and fixed capital formation (3.1 percent). As a result of worker emigration and the military draft, employment declined during the earlier period (by a half percent annually), but increased by 1.4 percent annually during the 1980s. Significantly, labor productivity (GDP growth/employment growth) grew by a sluggish rate of 1.3 percent annually in the recent period compared with the extremely rapid annual growth rate of 7.4 percent earlier. Inflation, as measured by the GDP deflator, averaged a modest 4 percent a year before the revolution compared with nearly 18 percent annually during the 1980s.

Although the investment coefficients were roughly similar (24 percent of GDP allocated to fixed capital formation in the earlier period; 26.7 percent during the 1980s), the overall investment productivity or efficiency (GDP growth rate/investment coefficient) was nearly three times greater (28.6 percent) before the revolution than in the 1980s (10.1 percent).

How does Portugal's GDP per capita compare with the average of the twelve members of the EC in the early 1990s, the European Twelve (EC-12), during the past three decades? In 1960, at the initiation of Salazar's more outward-looking economic policy, Portugal's per capita GDP was only 38 percent of the EC-12 average; by the end of the Salazar period, in 1968, it had risen to 48 percent; and in 1973, on the eve of the revolution, Portugal's per capita GDP had reached 56.4 percent of the EC-12 average. In 1975, the year of maximum revolutionary turmoil, Portugal's per capita GDP declined to 52.3 percent of the EC-12 average.

Convergence of real GDP growth toward the EC average occurred as a result of Portugal's economic resurgence since 1985. In 1991 Portugal's GDP per capita climbed to 54.9 percent of the EC average, exceeding by a fraction the level attained just before the Revolution of 1974.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress