Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Portugal’s Sardine Capitalism Is a Post-Pandemic Economic Model

By Michael Moran

12 Sep 2021 · 8 min read

LISBON—Defying conventional wisdom has a long history in Portugal. After all, in an age when maps showed the Earth ending abruptly somewhere around Bermuda and the waters teeming with sea monsters, Portuguese explorers dismissed the risks, placing Vasco da Gama (the first European to reach India by sea), Bartolomeu Dias (the first to round the Cape of Good Hope), and Ferdinand Magellan (who led the first circumnavigation of the Earth) in the vanguard of global imperialism.

Today, Portugal’s colonies are long gone, but the country’s penchant for charting its own course lives on in its uncanny ability to maintain what is arguably the European Union’s most successful mixed economy. Despite the global financial crisis a decade ago and the more recent economic downturn driven by the pandemic, Portugal has emerged as a growth model for Europe’s smaller economies, which have struggled to balance cultural traditions and political values against the demands of much larger economies—such as Germany, France, and Italy—with which they share the euro.

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