Why the World's Unemployed Youth are Flocking to Brazil

Man wasn’t supposed to labor like this. Not under these conditions…with a clear view of a clearer sea…a white sandy beach below his room…the sound of the crashing waves gently carrying through his window…

…and his head stuck firmly in his computer screen.

But we will soldier on, Fellow Reckoner. We will ignore the blissful and beckoning distractions of one of the world’s most famous esplanades just across the way. We will pretend the little cabanas down by Ipanema’s Post 10 have exhausted their supplies of frosted, cachaça-based refreshments and that the hot bods tanning on the sand and frolicking in the water are really just figments of our imagination. We will turn away from this little heaven on earth and cast our gaze, instead, upon its equal and opposing force…

…but not just yet.

We’re here in South America’s largest economy to scope out opportunities in the local business scene. The country is booming, as you’ve no doubt heard. And as far as the BRIC countries go, Brazil might just be our favorite. Well, at least it’s our favorite to visit. Unlike China, Brazil’s demographics are favorable. Unlike India, its social mobility is flexible. And Unlike Russia, the weather is agreeable. Also, the South American nation didn’t just “re-elect” Vladimir Putin. Then again, many would argue, neither did Russia.

All of which is not to say the place is without its “fair share” of problems. It has many. Official growth here has slowed. Considerably. The parasite class — politicians in Brasília — had forecast a growth rate of 4.5% for the year 2012. Now they figure it will be closer to 2.7%. Policy makers are “under pressure,” say the papers, to “do something.”

A standard quote from The Financial Times:

With the world economy slowing, many argue Brazil needs a fresh spark to keep it growing. Policy makers are under pressure to consider a second generation of reforms in areas such as taxation, infrastructure and education to make the country globally competitive.

Hmm… Maybe policy makers do have a role to play. But we’d bet that role is best served by getting out of the way and allowing the magic of the market to work its wonders.

Fortunately, there is a growing contingent of young entrepreneurs who are advocating just that. Your editor was delighted to meet a handful of them at the III Conferência de Escola Austríaca hosted by the Instituto Ludwig von Mises Brazil, this past weekend. A crowd of young and excited attendees sat glued to their seats while absorbing presentations from a host of Austrian School superstars, including Laissez Faire Book’s own Jeffrey Tucker…the only man to inspire a standing ovation after his spectacular speech on Intellectual Property in the Digital Age.

Imagining what a country like Brazil could do if the ideas of liberty and freedom were to take hold here is, in itself, an inspiring thought experiment. And the blossoming trend of independent young thinkers and innovative entrepreneurs is one we hope to be a part of in the very near future. As, it seems, do many others.

Tellingly, attendees at the conference hailed not only from around Brazil, but also from Europe and the US, both struggling markets that promise little or no future for the generation currently graduating from universities there. And these fugitive career seekers are not alone.

Portugal’s official unemployment rate — not atypical for the PIIGS economies — stands above 14%. The reality on the ground, however, is likely much worse than that. Among youths, the figure is closer to 40% and, as one Reuters journalist writing from Lisbon put it recently, the former colonial power offers “little hope for a sharp, job-generating recovery any time soon.”

Conversely, Brazil’s official unemployment rate hovers around multi-decade lows (between 5-6%). Given the common language, it’s hardly surprising therefore to find youth flocking to the opportunity rich South American powerhouse. Continued the Reuters piece:

Emigrating is fast becoming a preferred option for many seeking a decent living as their bailed-out economy suffers under debt, low growth and poor competitiveness. Portugal’s booming ex-colonies in Africa and Brazil are a natural choice.

Similarly, the employment situation in the US is inspiring many fresh-faced college grads…inspiring them to learn a new language and to seek jobs abroad, in healthier, more promising markets. And why not?

While student loan debt in the US recently surpassed outstanding credit card debt, unemployment data for the youth demographic suggests the cost of education might not have been worth it. Data from 2011 reveal that more than half of all US graduates with a bachelor’s degree were either unemployed or underemployed at the end of last year. What does underemployed mean? From a recent CNBC article:

In the last year, [students with bachelor’s degrees] were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).

Why flip burgers in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi or Tennessee (states with the highest rates of youth unemployment, along with the Mountain West region) when you could move to Rio de Janeiro and start an online business of your own? Why hang around waiting for government handouts on the streets of Lisbon when you could be flashing your skills in São Paulo’s bustling professional scene?

For many, the “service and protection” of the US government is no longer an adequate response…in fact, it’s becoming the very reason to leave. More on that, tomorrow…

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning