Why Political Geography Matters

Last post I spoke about a few economic reasons why the citizen-government connection in Brazil needs strengthening. In this post I want to talk about geography. Cities that combine economic, cultural, and political centers, like Washington, London, Paris, among many others, tend to make for a charged political environment. Where this environment has remained mostly orderly, a virtuous political ecology often takes root. Cities attract active citizens who interact with their political environment in myriad ways. Politically vested citizens from...

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Economic Progress, Political Complacence, and the Tenuous Citizen-Government Connection

Most gringos don’t realize that Brazil and Latin America’s experience with democracy is relatively recent. Brazil has come a long way since it returned from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s. It only drafted its current constitution in 1988, just over twenty years ago. Today, politics is less polarized, the military has less influence, consumers have greater choice thanks to fewer barriers to imports, and most crucially, inflation is no longer the unslayable dragon it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s...

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The Beach and the end of Inequality

Well, perhaps not the end of inequality, but the beach certainly is something of an equalizer. Although the beach has its classes and groups, it is the closest Brazilians come to indiscriminate association. Perhaps you have a few class indicators, like a pair of sunglasses or a fancy bathing suit, but except for some very informal segmentation it’s often difficult to tell rich from poor, poor from rich. Conversations and activities among strangers intermingle. Carolina and I observed one little fat white kid playing with a frisky group...

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Rio’s Unfortunate Police Force

Carolina and I were eating our breakfast at a little joint we favor for mixto quentes com ovo (ham, cheese and egg sandwiches) and açai. Today was a busy Sunday, and late-morning there were quite a few people trying to put in their order for açai and salgados. Up walks a police officer, a short black fellow, buds in front of a few people and shouts at a kid behind the counter to put a few things in a bag. The kid looks at him with a mixture of fear and acquiescence, and does as he’s told. Carol pointed out the scene to me. Afterward...

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Jeitinho

For Gringos to write about certain words in the Brazilian vocabulary has become somewhat cliché. “Saudade” is probably the most recurringly discussed word, a term combining the idea of nostalgia and a fond recollection. A Brazilian might say s/he has “saudade” for his family when s/he is away from home. Perhaps the second most spoken about word is “jeitinho,” loosely translated as “a way” and usually used in the sense of “a way of making it work.” Very often it means, “using...

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Brazil: Culturally Self-Possessed.

I admire Brazil most for its self-possession. Its culture is uniquely distinct and, as I will write about next entry, it even follows political and economic policy that is out-of-step with the dictates of first-world orthodoxy. For the most part, the country’s self-possession is accidental– it’s the sole Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas, and its large population and young median age allows its large market and wealth of human resources allows it to be more self-contained than other countries. One of the reasons...

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#4 Import taxes (i.e. tariffs)

The price of consumer durables in Brazil is more expensive than in any other large market in the world–hands down.  This does not seem to jive with the plight of the median Brazilian, who earns somewhere around $1000R ($600US) a month (minimum wage is about $550R a month. If anything, purchases of goods that can abet social and economic advancement, such as computers, should be subsidized. Yet Brazil’s tariffs average close to 30 percent on a number of items, items which are even exempted from the regional Mercosur tariff-reducing...

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Talking about inequality…

Today’s Jornal do Brasil reports  “47% of the GDP in only 1% of [the country’s] municipalities.” (page A17). Today, 40% of the nation’s poorest municipalities account for just 4.6% of the country’s GDP. Those are some figures to drown in. Inequality has obviously gotten worse, not better over time. In 1920, the figure for the richest 1 percent of municipalities was 21%, versus more than double, at 47% today. Brazil’s poor may have become richer in absolute terms, but so have the rich– much, much...

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Things I Could Live Without in Brazil

There are a lot of things I love about Brazil, such as the people, the uniqueness of its culture, and its natural beauty. This is a banal list of things that tourists appreciate about Brazil. But things are a lot different as a tourist than as a resident. When you’re living here, you begin to find things that grate against your sensibility.  There are several infuriating things about Brazil that I might as well get out in the next couple posts or so, right at the beginning of this blog. Being a political scientist, it’s hard not to...

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