Large, Insular Countries

It’s a peculiar thing about countries with large populations that they often tend to be insular, uninformed about what goes on in other parts of the world, and mildly paranoid, if not xenophobic. The U.S. provides a leading example: the intermittent periods of “isolationism” provide a testament to insularity. Proverbially clueless about the world outside their borders, Americans have also gained fame for their paranoia and xenophobia. But the prominence of these characteristics is tempered by the country’s historic openness, large...

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The Brazilian Validation of my Ph.D.

I’m still months away from being validated. But at least 95% of the paper work is in. It was easy, really: -Sent Diploma and full academic transcript to Brazilian consulate in Houston (closest consulate to graduating institution). $10 verification. -Had documents sent to Brazil. $93 -Had said documents verified by a notary: $11 -Documents translated by an “official” translator: $217 -Paid fee to the “validating” Federal University (UFRJ) in my case: $41 -Handed-in documents to UFRJ! -Realized that they also want a...

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Moralistic Blockaders versus Subversive Altruists

Carol and I have been watching political candidates advertise their wares on TV. The Brazilian election is just around the corner and as I mentioned before, it’s not looking promising. Things are good economically, so there’s little incentive for reform. I am reluctant to venture the opinion that someone “looks” corrupt – as the adage goes: looks often deceive – but it’s hard not to infer from the slick manner and silky words of some candidates that they’re in the game for more than just helping their country get ahead...

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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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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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