Celso Furtado

Celso Monteiro Furtado

Celso Furtado
Born (1920-07-26)26 July 1920
Pombal, Paraiba, Brazil
Died 20 November 2004(2004-11-20) (aged 84)
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nationality Brazilian
Institution University of Cambridge, CEPAL, Sudene, Cabinet of Brazil, University of Paris
School or
Structuralist economics
Alma mater University of Paris
Influences John Maynard Keynes

Celso Monteiro Furtado (July 26, 1920 – November 20, 2004) was an important Brazilian economist and one of the most distinguished intellectuals of his country during the 20th century.[1] His work focuses on development and underdevelopment and on the persistence of poverty in peripheral countries throughout the world. He is viewed, along with Raúl Prebisch, as one of the main formulators of economic structuralism, an economics school that is largely identified with CEPAL, which achieved prominence in Latin America and other developing regions during the 1960s and 1970s and sought to stimulate economic development through governmental intervention, largely inspired on the views of John Maynard Keynes. As a politician, Furtado was appointed Minister of Planning (Goulart government) and Minister of Culture (Sarney government).


Born in Pombal, a city set in the semi-arid region of the state of Paraíba, Celso Furtado moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1939, to study Law, and graduated from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in 1944. That same year, he was conscripted to the Brazilian Expeditionary Force to fight in Italy, during World War II, alongside the Allies. Seeing countries destroyed in post-war Europe had a profound impact on him, leading to the decision that he would study Economics: he enrolled in a doctorate program at the University of Paris (Sorbonne), in 1946, and presented a thesis on the economy of Brazil during the colonial period.

In 1949, he moved to Santiago, Chile, where he joined the team of the newly created United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (best known by its Latin American acronym, CEPAL), which was then headed by Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch. While working at CEPAL, Furtado and Prebisch were decisive for the formulation of socioeconomic policies for the development of Latin America which emphasized industrialization and import substitution.

Upon his return to Brazil in 1959, he published his most famous book – The Economic Growth of Brazil: A Survey from Colonial to Modern Times (in Portuguese: Formação Econômica do Brasil) – and was appointed the director of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDE) in charge of issues concerning states of the northeastern region, which are poor and face chronic droughts and desertification. During this period, he developed a plan which resulted in the creation of the Superintendency for the Development of the Northeast (Sudene), a governmental agency that worked to stimulate economic growth in that region, and was appointed by Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek (1956–1961) the agency's first director. During the government of president João Goulart (1961–1964), Furtado became Minister of Planning and was responsible for Brazil's Triennial Plan of development.

Furtado was also one of the founders of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), an intergovernmental body created in 1964, whose work has since centered around issues related to development and the asymmetries of international trade.

With the Brazilian military coup d'état, in 1964, he was forced into exile and worked as professor at Yale University, in the United States, and later at Cambridge University and the University of Paris (Sorbonne), in France. After the Law of Amnesty, in 1979, he returned to Brazil and was appointed Ambassador of Brazil at the EEC, in Brussels (1985–1986) and Minister of Culture in the government of president José Sarney (1985–1990).

In 2004, the year of his death, Celso Furtado was nominated to the Nobel Prize of Economics (Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences)

Published books

Furtado published more than 30 books during his lifetime.

English translations

(with Sue Branford)


The Economic Growth of Brazil (original title, Formação Econômica do Brasil) is his best known book and considered by many to be a national classic. First published in 1959, it depicts Brazil's economic history and the causes of underdevelopment.

In O Mito do Desenvolvimento Econômico (The myth of economic development, in Portuguese), published in 1974, Furtado almost prophetically refers to the "spread of the world economy" ("mundialização da economia") when describing the ongoing economic process known today as globalization and raises questions about issues we are living today:

1) The myth of economic development versus the need natural resources for economic processes: it's a myth to think that economic development, and its benefits, will some day reach everyone in the world if the model of economic development does not change. For instance, there are not sufficient natural resources available for every person in the world if one considers the economic model on which economy was based in the 1970s and is also based currently, i.e. the model where consumerism and individualism are the base for corporate actions. For instance, if every person had money to buy a car, our cities would be completely frozen. The critics on the myths of economic development were based on a report for the Club of Rome, which is summarized in Abstract of The limits to Growth: a report to The Club of Rome;

2) About poverty: in countries that do not have "central" economies (countries that are not the base for giant corporations), at most 10% of population could reach the level of wealth achieved by people in the richest countries. Peripheral economies, which would not create an independent and more complete economy, would continue to be poor countries, with increasing differences between poor and rich people inside this societies;

3) About the World economic superstructure: The world superstructure of capitalist economy (mainly IMF and GATT, which originated WTO (World Trade Organization) would, on the one hand, increase control over the world economy, also increasing freedom for capital's flows and for big corporations' actions, and, on the other hand, would decrease the number of possible options available for governments, mainly for poor country's governments. This is the kind of development that has been taking place for the last 30 years.


  1. Romero, Simon (November 26, 2004). "Celso Furtado, 84, Influential Brazilian Economist, Dies". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 20, 2015. Retrieved June 19, 2014.


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