Where Is Brazil Headed Now?
[Editor's note: this is an English version of a German-language interview published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute Deutschland. The interviewer is Andreas Marquart, the institute's executive director. Antony Mueller is a professor of economics in Brazil, so we have reprinted the interview here to provide readers with another local perspective on the recent election.]
Marquart: In the media, Bolsonaro is compared with Trump. Are we dealing with the same phenomenon? Is Bolsonaro also someone who the "establishment" is afraid of because he wants to go after the "deep state?"
Mueller:Yes, you can compare Jair Bolsonaro to Donald Trump. Trump was also one of the first to congratulate Bolsonaro on his election victory and to welcome him as a reliable US partner. Like Trump, Bolsonaro did not care much about the conventional rules during the election campaign. Yet here the parallels probably end. Bolsonaro has professionally a different background. Bolsonaro, unlike Donald Trump, has been politically active since 1990 and before he was in the military. After that he had been elected several times as representative to the Brazilian congress. There he played his role as an outsider and gained notoriety mainly because of his unconventional talks and by his idiosyncratic voting.
When Bolsonaro announced his candidacy for the presidency, his competitors and the self-proclaimed political experts in the media agreed that he would never succeed. To this day, the slogan ‘Ele não’ (‘He won’t’) is used by his opponents. Their arguments seemed to be sound. Bolsonaro seemed unqualified because of his problematic statements that did not fit into the scheme of political correctness. He had little money to run a campaign, and with his Social Liberal Party (PSL), he was on a narrow party-political basis, especially compared to the mighty Labor Party (PT). Polls also gave Bolsonaro barely a chance.
Different from the United States, Brazil does not have a big "deep state." In Brazil, it's more the traditional privileges enjoyed by the judiciary and the civil service that make it a separate caste. The vernacular in Brazil calls the top members of this group quite appropriately maharajahs. Yet whether Bolsonaro will dare to challenge this group, is questionable.
Marquart: Bolsonaro says he does not care much about the economy ... his designated Minister of Economic Affairs, Paulo Guedes, is considered a follower of the Chicago School. What is to be expected here?
Mueller: Yes, Bolsonaro does not pretend to understand much about economics. That's what Paulo Guedes stands for. I think that Jair Bolsonare will concentrate on the political game and give a free a hand to his expert to handle the economy. Paulo Guedes will explain what a free market economy is, how fatal government spending is, and how devilish inflation is. He has influence in the financial markets. He finds less resonance in the industry whose leaders still have a protectionist and interventionist bias. Finally, there is a lot to do to enlighten the public about economic matters. For decades, schools, universities, and the media have preached statism. Guedes is an economic liberal in the tradition of Milton Friedman while Bolsonaro and his political active sons have actually expressed some sympathy for the Austrian school.
Marquart: The press describes Bolsonaro as"'ultra-right," as a divisive figure. Is this fake news?
Mueller: The template "right-left" no longer fits. This primitive view gets repeated in the mass media and is mainly used by the radical left as a tool of polemics. The world mass media has been mistaken about Bolsonaro as it was wrong with Donald Trump. Bolsonaro's party is called "social liberal." There are parties here, such as the "NOVO," which set much clearer libertarian accents. Instead of "social liberal" or "right," one should call Jair Bolsonaro — as far as such labels make any sense — "conservative-liberal." This is best understood when you mark his position in opposition to the Workers Party (PT). The PT has economically a socialist and socially a cultural-Marxist position. This orientation has aroused a growing aversion against this movement. The corruption scandal, which brought the party’s leader and former president, Lula da Silva into jail, added to the rejection of this party.
Bolsonaro stands for Christian-conservative values and for a free market economy to confront the left. Thus, he was the only one who clearly set himself apart from the many other socialist and semi-socialist parties in Brazil and profiled himself as a clear antipode to the Workers Party. The presidential candidate and the candidate for the office of the vice presidency of this movement fitted well into the image that Bolsonaro evoked to characterize the evil of his opponents. In his perspective, the PT under the old leadership of Lula was corrupt and money-obsessed and has destroyed the economy and the current PT with the candidates Fernando Haddad and the communist Manuela d’Ávila at the top are morally destructive. Bolsonaro identified the PT as the cultural Marxist party that instilled homosexuality, promiscuity, and anti-Christian values into the children at school and promoted Marxism at the universities. By the media, this was then interpreted as splitting the country and fomenting the polarization while in fact it simply represented a clear counter-position against the dominant ideological trend. Of course, Bolsonaro has been correct with his identification of the Brazilian socialist movement. This PT has little to do with workers but is the party of leftist intellectuals who were about to take control of the country. It is this group that is now announcing the resistance against the newly elected president and wants to paralyze the country with protests and other forms of obstruction.
Marquart: Besides corruption, crime is the other big problem. In Brazil, over 63,000 people were killed last year. Bolsonaro wants to liberalize the gun laws. What is your opinion on crime?
Mueller: Crime is indeed a serious problem in this country. However, one must remember that the violence is concentrated in the slums of the big cities. The wealthier layers of the society usually live in sheltered communities and in buildings with private security guards. In Brazil, there are two separate worlds in almost every city. There was a referendum on the weapons law and the majority was in favor of liberalization. Bolsonaro would only implement this plebiscite. It should also be borne in mind that the current high number of homicides happens under the present restrictive gun law. It is difficult to imagine that a freer law on weapons would increase violent crime.
Marquart: What is the mood among the people in your view and what steps are to be expected now from Bolsonaro?
Mueller: The losers had announced massive protest rallies and overall "resistance" against the winner on election night. Yet instead of resistance, there has come a broad popular support for the president-elect. Bolsonaro is on the way of forming a top team for his government. As Justice Minister, he will probably have the judge who put the former president Lula da Silva behind bars. Bolsonaro has found competent candidates for technology and education. Unlike with the former governments, foreign policy and the South American economic integration will not be a priority. The designated minister for economic affairs, Paulo Guedes, pronounced — in the best classical liberal tradition — that “we will save the Brazilian industry from the industrialists” when a delegation of the industry association asked for the maintenance of subsidies and protectionism.
Marquart: Finally, a question about the development of the libertarian scene in Brazil. What can you tell us here?
Mueller: A few my libertarian friends and acquaintances have been elected to the congress. The clearly libertarian-oriented party NOVO has even won a governorship in the important state of Minas Gerais. The libertarians clearly distinguished themselves as an alternative to the traditional politics. It was above all very young people who were elected under the libertarian banner. That gives a reason for hope. I also dare to predict that, unlike in the United States, a consensus may emerge in Brazil that will overcome the polarization which has flared up during the election campaign. That is a prerequisite for a constructive approach to the enormous social and economic challenges of the country that the new government must now face.
Marquart: Many, thanks, professor Mueller