My most surprising findings in Brazil, aside from the amazing fruits that I didn’t know existed because the US government doesn’t think I need them, were the young American kids who have moved here to find economic opportunity. This I had not expected, but now fully understand.
Brazil is a marvelous and massive country where private wealth thrives without embarrassment, where well-protected and healthy familial dynasties form the infrastructure of social and economic life, where technology is popular and beloved by everyone, where the police leave you alone and where Americans can feel right at home.
The world is changing fast. Freedom in America is slipping away so quickly that we are already seeing a wave of young people leaving in search of new opportunities, just as people from around the world once came to America to live the dream. Brazil is one of many countries benefiting from the generational emigration from the US.
Discovering this rattled me more than I might have expected. But the young people themselves are not unhappy, and I can see why. They are valued. They are earning good money doing interesting things. They have access to one of the most beautiful and exotic and friendly places on Earth. They eat well, live well and have rich social lives.
More than anything else, they have the sense of freedom.
Now, you might wonder how it is that people have to leave the “home of the free” to find freedom. Over the last 10 years, something horrible has happened to the United States. The police state has cracked down hard, not so much on “terrorists” or real criminals, but on regular citizens. The news items spill out of my feed on an hourly basis, things that just shock and alarm those who are paying attention.
Maybe it is not so surprising. The US military is larger than most of the world’s militaries combined. We have the largest prison population on the planet, and most are locked up for nonviolent crimes. The political culture focuses more on the need for security than for freedom. Add it all up and you have the perfect recipe for the emergence of a police state.
But most Americans are not entirely conscious of the change. It has been fast, but slow enough not to cause alarm. It hits you only once you leave. This happened to me two years ago when I went to Spain. I could move about and do what I wanted without bumping into authority at every turn. I felt it again in Austria last year. It is not something you can quite put your finger on, just a sense that you are not under constant surveillance in suspicion. You can breathe easily.
It was the same in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a happy and prosperous land of exotic fruits, thriving markets, consumer products that actually work and are not depreciated by regulatory mandates, and polite and warm people.
I received a very generous invitation to be a main speaker at the third conference on Austrian economics sponsored by Mises Brasil, a young organization with a very bright future. It was founded only four years ago. Yet today, it has a gigantic presence in Brazilian intellectual life. The hunger for the intellectual basis of freedom is palpable.
Three hundred or more people were here to listen to lectures and engage in debates on ideas. The audience was a sea of young people, most everyone under 30. They were students, professionals, traders and workers of all sorts, all passionate about freedom and the economic answers provided by the Austrian tradition of Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard.
What most excited them was the classic idea of laissez faire — that is, the idea that society can thrive on its own in the absence of central management and that the government operates as a drain on society. The culture of the group was certainly more intellectual and educational than political. They were invigorated by ideas and given hope by the idea of freedom. Apparently, nothing like this organization existed in Brazil until recently. Now the group’s website is one of the most heavily trafficked in the country.
My hosts were enormously generous with their time, and they knew exactly what I really wanted to do on the first day: see the delights of the open-air markets. I was told they are in the center of town. If you had seen a map of Sao Paulo, you would know just how odd it is even to imagine such a thing. The city seems to be everywhere in sight, everywhere you turn, going on forever. It is like 100 New Yorks.
Driving here is not for the faint of heart. The street layout makes no rational sense at all. I could have been driven the short distance between the hotel and the conference center a hundred times and still not have had the slightest clue about the layout. I was told that it would take at least two years of living here to gain a sense that you really know the place.
Go to a high spot in the center of town and look around on all sides. Everywhere you see a beautiful thing, a world built by millions of human hands. No central plan could have made this. No single mind could have conceived of it. To anyone who is intellectually curious, the obvious questions are how does this place work? How is order achieved? The answer is one that few people in the United States seem to care about today. The miracle is obtained through the coordinating forces of the market itself, of millions of free people interacting in small ways toward their mutual self-betterment. This is the answer that inspires a lifetime of intellectual curiosity.
On the first lunch on my first day, my hosts took me to a place like I had never seen, and they are as unconscious of its significance as Americans would be startled by its very existence. Again, it seemed to be in the center of town. To obtain entry requires extensive security checks. But once you are in, a new world emerges: restaurants, soccer fields, gigantic swimming pools of many varieties and delights as far as the eye can see.
This is a city within a city. But it is entirely private, what Americans would call a “country club,” but of a particularly elaborate type. It is not hidden away in some alcove on the outskirts of town. It is right there in the city for everyone to see — something nonmembers can also take pride in. It is marvelous in every way, a living monument to the possibility of orderly, privately owned anarchist communities.
One thing kept gnawing at me during my entire visit. I kept coming across people who were members of large and extended families with roots very far back in Brazilian history. They were impressive entrepreneurs, but the wealth was more robust than you would find in a place like Silicon Valley. It reminded more of Gilded Age families in the United States, people who carried themselves with grace and confidence born of excellent breeding and material security.
As I thought about it more, the ingredients were unusual by American standards: large and extended families, protected wealth, well-bred youths, a predominantly young population. What was the reason for this? I developed a quick, back-of-the-napkin theory. It had something to do with the inheritance tax. So I asked my hosts, “What are estate taxes like in this country?” The answer came fast: There are none. Some areas charge 3%, maybe 6%, but it is rather easy to escape even those minimal charges.
This contrasts with the United States, where estate taxes can be as high as 35%. We’ve been looting our best families for 100 years. We’ve gouged and smashed the richest generations of American capitalists upon death ever since the Progressive Era. We’ve been living one generation at a time. Time horizons have fallen. Large-scale, privately held capital accumulation has been discouraged, even made illegal. Families have shrunk in size. The population has become ever more aged.
This tax policy has eaten the heart out of the desire of a free people to create dynasties. So our wealthy have to hide. They are encouraged to give their money away to causes, rather than to children. We live one generation to the next. Children are perceived of as an economic burden, rather than a path to immortalizing a legacy.
In Brazil, the time horizon extends beyond the single lifetime. And this is what has given rise to the dramatic cultural, social and economic differences between our countries. These dynasties serve as robust intermediating institutions between the individual and the state. We have ever fewer such things in the United States. Maybe this is what accounts for the incoherent sense that this is a freer country than the US.
There are other factors, too. The military consumes only a tiny percentage of wealth, and Brazilians dread wars because they know that they will be roped into supporting whatever wacky war the US starts. What’s more, the police are well-known to be as likely to commit as prevent or punish crime, so they are not trusted. Security is extremely important in Brazil, but everyone knows that it is a private function and not anything anyone would entrust to the state.
The beautiful thing about Mises Brazil as an organization is that it is working to further encourage these instincts and to spread an intellectual culture that openly embraces liberty as a model of life itself. They publish books and monographs, hold conferences and spread the liberal tradition far and wide among an idea-hungry generation. This is all about the future, and Mises Brazil is right to have confidence in it.
As I waited in the customs line to enter the US again, we were all shown a film designed to introduce America to new visitors. The film featured kids in ballet class, people riding horses, barn raisings, people water surfing, dances from coast to coast, smiling people of all ages, all against the backdrop of an exciting Coplandesque musical score. It ended with the Statue of Liberty. It was wholly inspiring, but there was something missing: The government was nowhere to be seen.
How I wish this film were the whole truth about our country. It once was. But the American dream is not about geography; the American dream is an idea that moves like a spirit around the world, landing wherever people are willing to embrace it and confess it as creed. That spirit has landed in Brazil, and it was a great honor to be witness to it.
Jeffrey Tucker,for The Daily Reckoning
I'm executive editor of Laissez Faire Books and the proprietor of the Laissez Faire Club. I'm the author of two books in the field of economics and one on early music. My main professional work between 1985 and 2011 was with the MIses Institute but I've also worked with the Acton Institute and Mackinac Institute, as well as written thousands of published articles. My personal twitter account @jeffreyatucker FB is @jeffrey.albert.tucker Plain old email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey, that bow tie suits you.
Breeding? F–k off.
brazil. it’s the world’s next superpower. and always will be.
I just got back from Sao Paulo, it is not safe to walk the streets there.
“I just got back from Sao Paulo, it is not safe to walk the streets there.”
obviously you’re not be from one of the well-protected and healthy familial dynasties! work harder.
hey Jeff, next time you go there, go to the ‘favelas’ in Rio and then come back and right the same article about the ‘well-protected and healthy familial dynasties! ‘
or that the ‘police leave you alone’, yep, they will leave you alone when the drug dealers are ripping you guts out.
you say ‘My hosts were enormously generous with their time’
or course they were, they don’t need to work or do anything, they have money and there only who has money makes money.
so go to the ‘favelas’, come back and write the same article about them and then I will consider you an author, till then I will consider you are an imbecile who only saw the rich side of that country that belong to about 2% of the entire population.
Move there dear, we don’t need you here.
I was born in the US and I moved to Brazil around 6 years ago. My desire to return to the US? Zero.
Just to clear up some facts:
1- Brazil and superpower don’t mix. There are too many costs to being a superpower and the government here doesn’t like to spend money. People don’t often go to jail, and when people are actually in jail, the government has to pay a stipend to the family.
2- People that live in Brazil are some of the most tax opprossed people in the world. There are even 7% taxes on international transactions made with credit cards. Here’s a few more taxes: IPI, ICMS, ISSQN (tax on services of ANY nature). There’re more.. lots more.
3- There’s everything in Brazil. I personally in a very old city. Things here are unplanned and very messy. But you can go to other cities that are nice and planned.
Brazil has its share of crime and issues. No place is perfect. But I left the US due to the encroaching police state, and I’m very happy that I did.
You do need to go to the Favelas to see what is really going on. The police in Brazil don’t even bother arresting some one. They shoot them on the spot. Crime is rampant. I know I lived in Rio and Sao Paulo for two years and have been to the country 18 times. What saves Brazil are the Brazilians themselves. They are a wonderful people.
Jeff, I’ve posted a response to your article in my blog: http://thisspaceforrant.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/brazil-and-the-spirit-of-chaos/
I’m a Brazilian who was born and raised here and this is my take on the country.
Jeffrey, great article. I moved to Brazil from London 4yrs ago and do not regret a thing. In fact, because of the high interest in moving to Brazil, I ended up writing a whole book about it that ws published last week — take a look if you’re interested: http://www.amazon.com/The-Brazilian-Dream-Finance-Entrepreneur/dp/1468135678/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337367242&sr=1-1
The biggest remaining issues in Brazil are overly complex labor laws and tax regulations, which stifle the otherwise high entrepreneurial energy.
“Well, if you’ve only been in touch with wealthy people who live in a huge urban center, you’ve obviously got a skewed picture of what life is actually like for the absolute majority of Brazilians.”
but dude! that’s how he sees himself! that’s how all libertarians see themselves! as the wealthy! oh harf who am I kidding, as the SOURCE of wealth! they can be surrounded by failure and criminality and they’ll think it will all turn out right for THEM so long as the government does its job and devotes itself to protecting THEM!
I am brazilian from Campina Grande city, Paraíba State, and i am very happy. I see Brazil grow with liberty. I see democracy. I have one wife and two childrens. I have dreams. Thanks my Lord Jesus for my life like a brazilian. And good luck for all peoples in the world. Peace and prosperity for USA!
@ Daniel T. said in his link:
* Oh yeah, almost forgot, the mayor’s office of the city of São Paulo issued a mandate forbidding the use of billboard ads within city limits.
* Also, ten years back, a lawyer decided to compile all the tax laws in the country in one book. Know how many pages it has? Me neither, but it weighs 6 tons. It’s the biggest book in the world by far, double the size of the runner-up, from Sweden. Last I heard, he was working with aeronautic engineers to develop a system of pulleys to allow people to search through the book.
Understand how Brazilians are, act, and carry themselves. They have a contagious positive spirit, unlike ours in the US. They work together, care about each other, and see the world as a great place – not how the US sees the majority of the world. The US is a ME ME ME place…hardly united. In fact, it takes catastrophe for our citizens to unite (and for only so long…).
Brazilians love the US. Why? Because they feel a sense of freedom from their ridiculous gov’t here. Talk to any Brazilian living in the US and they love it here because they feel free from gov’t, but they see how ridiculous the mindset of the average American is – how we only care for ourselves.
I’m envious of the Brazil culture, not their gov’t. If they figure their gov’t out, they will rule the world, without a doubt.
I couldn’t agree more. I have been to Brazil twice and have never felt that type of freedom in America. In America I try to stay of the streets past 8pm because the hundreds of cops are looking for something to do, and I don’t want to be that victim. I have never been to the Big Cities in Brazil, only the South, and I would love to live there and start enjoying nature.
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