Does the Rise of Economic Optimism Lead to More Charity?

Booming Brazil and Buoyant Brazilians

An Ipsos Public Affairs poll measuring national economic optimism in 24 countries placed Brazil far ahead of the pack, with 78 percent of people optimistic about the country’s economy, according to today’s Globo newspaper. India came a distant second at 61 percent and France a gloomy last, with just 3 percent buoyant about the country’s economic outlook.

Charitable Potential

Today the Folha de São Paulo reported on a McKinsey Consulting study that placed Brazil’s potential for philanthropy at 9.4 billion dollars per year (how did they get that number anyhow?). Charitable giving in Brazil currently stands at 4.7 billion, and only 25 percent of people claim they donate money to charity. By contrast, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada placed among the top three, with between 64 and 70 percent donating money to charity. The world average for charitable giving amounts to 0.6 percent of GDP,  in Latin America it is 0.4, and in Brazil it stands below the regional average at 0.3 percent of GDP.

Given Economic Gains, will Charity Blossom in Brazil?

Will more disposable income–thanks to Brazil’s recent economic windfalls–prompt greater charitable giving relative to increases in GDP? This is a tough question to answer, so please comment. I’ll start with a “yes” and a “no”.


The economy is booming and Brazilians like their fellow countrymen, which is more than can be said for most countries. Government, always the paternal hand on everyone’s head here in Brazil, could easily promote philanthropy as a form of promoting social solidarity. They might achieve gains with their pals over at Globo, the third largest TV network in the world and Brazilians’ first source for everything TV. Globo has used an annual campaign, Esperança Criança (Hope Child), to raise approximately 190 million Reais ($115 million US) since 1986.


Below is a Brazilian introduction and courtesy, a custom, really, that is repeated more times a day than probably any other phrase in the Portuguese language.

Question: “Tudo bom?” (everything good?)            Answer: “Tudo bem” [or “tudo bom”] (all is well.)

The same goes for “tudo joia?” “tudo bem?” and others– point being, Brazilians are just fine. And if they’re fine, what’s the need to get charitable? This whole “yes” “no” exercise is really an inquiry into what drives charity, if not economic progress, and the above logic is pretty silly (albeit fun to think about).

Seriously considered, however, there are clearly some logistical challenges to greater philanthropy. How to give, for example. There simply are not that many well-publicized, easily accessible mechanisms for giving. This may change with greater wealth, but as it stands, outlets for giving do not jump out at you the way they do in the north. Another issue is trust. A lot of charities are suspect and suspected. Rightly so, apparently; fraud in charities and other types of NGOs is common.

The Paradox of Charity

Much social charity constitutes a form of empathy with fellow citizens. In rich countries, citizens might give because they wish to subsidize those social sectors unreached by government services. If government services are weak to begin with, however, you might assume that people would give more to charity– in order to pick up the slack left by the state. Unfortunately, this is one of the paradoxes of many emerging countries– the “have” classes tend to distance themselves from the “have-nots”–with gated communities, exclusive clubs, private schools, cars rather than public transport or bicycles, etc. Just maybe, though, charity implies an empathetic journey into the terrain of the have-nots, which is simply too much guilt and displacement for most “haves” to comfortably undertake.

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