Any Brazilian libertarian gets the same questions: What the heck is happening there? How come you have people with “Menos Marx, Mais Mises” signs down the streets? Aren’t you some kind of left-libs? Isn’t Lula, now jailed for corruption, ‘Obama’s man’?
The curiosity about Brazil and what is happening here is so widespread that people have discussed that in the US (see here and here), in the UK, and even in Italy.
Every time people ask me about it, I tend to respond in a somewhat different manner, and I tend to forget stuff. So here I want to tell you what I think about the whole thing.
Usually I divide my explanation into three parts:
1. Eight years of hard interventionism (2008-2016 under Lula da Silva and Roussef) pushed the country to the limits. There was no way out, either more libertarian ideas would enter in the common discussion or we would be heading to full blown real-life communism, Venezuela style;
2. Internet, social networks, and bottom up organization via ‘apolitical’ movements; and
3. A weak but vigorous intellectual environment is slowly forming for libertarian (or what Americans might call "conservative") ideas. (See, for example, Olavo de Carvalho.
#1: There are more than 30 political parties down here. Only one, the NOVO labels itself as "classical liberal/libertarian." There are more than ten communist/socialist parties. The so called ‘conservative’ candidate for the forthcoming presidential election had to strike an agreement with a lib-left party to get his way into the candidacy.
Since redemocratization in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, Brazil has had five presidents, two of them communists. Lula da Silva and Roussef. There was one social-democrat: Cardoso. These presidents served 22 years in total. The current president, Temer, belongs to a center party that has never been anti-establishment in the last 35 years. Our system gives way too much power to the executive branch, which lead to growing interventionism. The government represents 40% of the GDP and has been growing in the last 20 years.
On the practical side, the last relevant libertarian politician in Brazil, Roberto Campos, passed away 30 years ago. There was nobody defending libertarian ideas in the political world, which was a reflection of the cultural and academic environment. Statism, empirically represented by the expenditures with the soccer stadiums for the 2014 World Cup, lead the country to the biggest economic crisis in its history. The GDP decreased by more than 3% in two consecutive years, 2015 and 2016. In 2017, there was no growth.
#2. Another new development was the Brazilian Mises Institute (Instituto Mises Brasil - IMB), inspired by the MI. It emerged in the mid 2000’s, and was founded by Hélio Beltrão with the academic support of Prof. Ubiratã Iorio. From the beginning, the institute distributed a lot of free material online and used social media to spread the ideas, some facts on that:
There was no libertarian movement in Brazil in 2010 (I’m writing that in 2018!), people had started talking about it, but there was nothing organized. Nowadays, there are around 40 thousand visits to mises.org.br every day, in 2008 the number was 13 times lower. There are 300,000 likes on Facebook. The Institute has a podcast running for 5+ years with more than 300 episodes. 1 million books have been downloaded. Since 2013, "Mises" has more Google searches than "Keynes."
Well, here is where the story gets complicated and this is where we get to #3.
In my view there are two complementary responsible for the intellectual change: Olavo de Carvalho and Instituto Mises Brasil.
Olavo is a Brazilian philosopher, he became known in the late 1990’s, but gained traction in the mid 2000’s with a weekly web-radio show where he presented his conservative positions and waged cultural war on widespread communist ideology in Brazilian culture, universities, and the media. With his attack on the centralization of power, he always mentioned the calculation debate and has used methodological individualism in his political analysis.
Meanwhile, the IMB provided materials and events on economics and political science and spread the ideas to a wider and more libertarian, less conservative, audience.
So, what is ahead?
In October there will be national elections in Brazil, including races for congress and the senate, new governors and houses in the states, and a new national president.
There is likely to be be somewhere between 20-25 libertarian representatives, a huge jump from the zero of the last 30 years. Maybe some senators and numerous state representatives.
But, we have got to keep fighting the ideological war.
The Brazilian experience can be an inspiration to other movements elsewhere in the globe, and those lessons could be a starting point to those that want to do something about it.