Monday, February 27, 2012

Becoming Brazil?

Is the US becoming Brazil? And what is meant by Brazil is not the “cuddly BRIC”, a cliché repeated by the media that only describes accurately the southern half of the country from the mid 90s onwards. Nor the land of beaches, carnival, caipirinhas et al –there are several ways in which New England is not Rio de Janeiro. This is the Brazil I am referring to: the one that has been sadly famous for being the global wealth inequality champion, the textbook example of a corrupt, patrimonial state.

Corruption is rampant in Brazil, today more so than ever. Even a relatively apolitical city like Rio has witnessed several mobilizations against corruption in 2011. Fourteen months into her first term, Dilma Rousseff has lost seven cabinet ministers to corruption scandals. Against the wishes of 79% of Brazilians, the President is unable to veto a bill that would amnesty illegal loggers in the Amazon… because parliament is in the hands of the pro-legislation lobby.

Does this ring a bell?

There are multiple explanations for Brazil’s endemic corruption. Institutions left in place by the Portuguese –or the lack of them. Unspecified cultural phenomena. Brazilians’ inability to tell the difference between what is publicly and privately owned. Using soccer players as role models. But the most interesting explanation I have come across blames the problem on campaign finance.

In an article published in the Brazilian edition of Diplo, Francisco Fonseca explains why this is the case. In the first place, campaigns are privately funded. In the second place, Brazil -like most democracies in the world and unlike the US- has a multi-party system that requires coalitions between its 28 different parties. This is not bad per-se, but mix it with number one, add existing wealth inequalities, and voilà –what you get is a kleptocracy. One in which every cabinet minister, coming from a different party, keeps a very busy agenda rewarding his and his party’s private sponsors. Fortunately Fonseca provides a solution to this problem. Hint, hint, it has to do with the title of this blog...

One might feel tempted to point out that the US is not endemically corrupt, and is in fact a rich and developed country –unlike Brazil. Yes, the US is less corrupt than Brazil (excluding Providence, of course. And not viewing lobbying as legalized corruption). As for underdevelopment, Brazil is not a developing country anymore –it is the world’s third largest commercial aircraft producer. And as former president Cardoso’s once said, Brazil is not poor; Brazil is unequal.

Where the comparison ends is in future trends. Despite huge challenges ahead Brazil is slowly becoming more egalitarian. In the US the opposite is taking place, and in fact has been taking place for the past thirty year. Citizens United vs. FEC points out to a dismal future, corporate rule not being the best way to fight inequality. And so at last we are “compelled to face with sober senses” the road that lies ahead. The US could become Brazil… with stagnant growth and growing inequality instead of samba. That is, the US could become Nigeria.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! For democracy to "matter" it cannot be just a cynical institutional validation of what has been previously decided in corporate boardrooms, but a true expression of the will of the people. That should be obvious, but unfortunately it is not.