Is the US becoming Brazil? And what is meant byBrazil is not the “cuddlyBRIC”, a cliché repeated by the media that only describes accurately the southernhalf of the country from the mid 90s onwards. Nor the land of beaches,carnival, caipirinhas et al –there are several ways in which NewEngland is not Riode Janeiro. This is the Brazil I am referring to: the one that has beensadly famous for being the global wealth inequality champion, the textbookexample of a corrupt, patrimonial state.
Corruption is rampant in Brazil, today more sothan ever. Even a relatively apolitical city like Rio has witnessed several mobilizationsagainst corruption in 2011. Fourteen months into her first term, Dilma Rousseffhas lost seven cabinet ministers tocorruption scandals. Against the wishes of 79% of Brazilians, the President isunable to veto a bill that would amnesty illegal loggers in the Amazon… becauseparliament is in the hands of the pro-legislation lobby.
Does thisring a bell?
There are multipleexplanations for Brazil’s endemic corruption. Institutions left in place by thePortuguese –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 havecome across blames the problem on campaign finance.
In an articlepublished in the Brazilian edition of Diplo, Francisco Fonsecaexplains why this is the case. In the first place, campaigns are privatelyfunded. In the second place, Brazil -like most democracies in the world andunlike the US- has a multi-party system that requires coalitions between its 28 different parties. This is not bad per-se, but mix itwith number one, add existing wealth inequalities, and voilà –what you get is a kleptocracy. One in which every cabinetminister, coming from a different party, keeps a very busy agenda rewarding his and his party’s private sponsors. Fortunately Fonseca provides a solution tothis problem. Hint, hint, it has to do with the title of this blog…
One might feel tempted to point out that the USis not endemically corrupt, and is in fact a rich and developed country –unlikeBrazil. Yes, the US is less corrupt than Brazil (excluding Providence,of course. And not viewing lobbying as legalized corruption). As forunderdevelopment, Brazil is not a developing country anymore –it is the world’sthird largest commercialaircraft producer. And as former president Cardoso’s once said, Brazil isnot poor; Brazil is unequal.
Where the comparison ends is in future trends.Despite huge challenges ahead Brazil is slowly becoming more egalitarian. Inthe US the opposite is taking place, and in fact has been taking place for thepast thirty year. Citizens United vs. FEC points out to a dismal future, corporaterule 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 couldbecome Brazil… with stagnant growth and growing inequality instead of samba.That is, the US could become Nigeria.