The Real Reason Brazil Can Still Be "the Country of the Future"
Writing this week for Bloomberg, Tyler Cowan made the case that Brazil is “still the country of the future.” While I share Cowan’s optimism for the nation’s future, his focus on the country’s diversity, size, and vaguely federalized political structure overlooks the real story – that Austrian economics and libertarianism is winning the battle of ideas within the country.
Brazil is home to one of the fastest-growing and accomplished liberty movements in the world. Not only did organizations like the Mises Brasil, Students for Liberty Brazil and the Free Brasil Movement play a pivotal role in the suspension of president Dilma Rousseff but, as I love to point out, Ludwig von Mises is now the most searched economist in the country. More impressive still, as of last month, F.A. Hayek was searched more than John Maynard Keynes and Murray Rothbard was searched more than Milton Friedman. This is an incredible testament to the work of Mises Brasil, Instituto Rothbard and the other organizations within the country dedicated to spreading Austro-libertarian ideas.
The importance of this ideological shift can’t be overstated. After all, outside of his references to the current Olympic games and President Dilma Rouseff’s impeachment saga, there isn’t much in Cowan’s article that wasn’t true when The Economist was celebrating the country on its cover in 2009. That the country today is in the midst of its greatest economic crisis in over a century is an illustration that for all the resources Brazil may have as a country, only a nation with an intellectual climate that embraces markets and property rights can enjoy the fruits of sustained prosperity. Brazilians have the same choice as their their northern neighbors in Venezuela: capitalism or chaos.
If there is a silver lining to be found in Brazil's debilitating economic crisis is that it has made increasingly obvious the failings of the leftist status quo. As the funding for public services has been cut back, in part to pay for an over-budget Olympic Games and the corrupt cronies they attract, the market has been able to step in and provide vital services.
For example, as police officers protest budget cuts with signs reading “Welcome to Hell,” private security forces have filled the gap during the Olympic games. With over 60% of Brazilians fearing their country's police forces, in large part due to the growing number of police-related deaths, the demand for private protection has grown throughout the country.
Another socialized failure highlighted by this year’s Olympic games is the disastrous sewage situation in Brazil. With headlines around the world focusing on the serious health risks posed to any athlete that has exposure to the sewage-filled water in Rio, there is growing momentum to privatize Cedae, the state-owned water and sewage company. Like many of Brazil’s public companies, including the state-operated oil giant Petrobas that brought down Rousseff, Cedae is now under investigation for corruption.
Perhaps most importantly, private education has been thriving in Brazil. With laws allowing for the rise of for-profit universities in Brazil being passed in the 90’s, millions have gone through Brazilian private universities and the industry has attracted billions of dollars from international investors, with double digit growth since 2010. One major advantage of increased privatization of education is greater curriculum specialization and flexibility, which is particularly helpful given the diverse population Cowan highlighted. With Brazil’s significant Japanese and German speaking populations, the growing education market allows for schooling that can meet the specific demands for individual communities.
The fact that there is growing public sentiment supporting the privatization is a testament to the cultural changes that have taken place within the country. As Elena Landau, a former economist for Brazil’s development bank, has said, "Privatization is no longer a taboo.” This is in large part due to the incredible work of the various organizations within the country dedicated to spreading capitalism.
As Mises said in his book Economic Policy, “Everything that happens in the social world in our time is the result of ideas. Good things and bad things.“
If Brazil truly is “the country of the future,” it will due to it embracing the ideas of Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard.
The growing numbers of Brazilians dedicated to spreading capitalism and liberty are the greatest resource Brazil has.
Tho is an assistant editor for the Mises Wire, and can assist with questions from the press.