Saturday, January 10, 2009

Is Brazil the model?

Happy New Year to the readers of our blog. Today’s installment comes from Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, to be precise. Oh what a city! The weather, the scenery, the music, the dancing, the Caipirinhas, the beaches, the beautiful people - just to name a few things which enthrall every visitor willing to see it. Ah, and not to forget, the Favelas, the crime, the gaping social inequality and the conspicuous presence of military police at every second corner.

Being in Brazil for a relaxing week one can’t help to evoke Michael Lind’s notion of ‘Brazilianization’ as one of the social science ideas which caused a bit of a stir over the last ten years. No, this does not mean free Brahma beer and Samba for all! It rather refers to a pretty somber vision of change in most western societies toward a model that has been commonplace in Brazil for decades now. Here is how Lind defines the B-word:
‘Brazilianization is symbolized by the increasing withdrawal of the white American overclass into its ... world of private neighborhoods, private schools, private police, private health care, and even private roads, walled off from the spreading squalor beyond. Like a Latin American oligarchy, the rich and well connected members of the overclass can flourish in a decadent America with Third World levels of inequality and crime.’ (pp. 14, 215-16).
Such a model is nowhere more visible than in Rio. While enjoying a luxurious day at the Copacabana you may well see the Favelas just a kilometer away, but thanks to armed police, private security, iron bars around every house you don’t need to worry too much. The ‘underclass’ mostly enters this world after dark - during daylight at best as beach vendors or garbage collectors. Other than that, these poor people are a parallel universe largely left to their own devices (though admittedly the Lula government in recent years has done quite a bit to address the gap).

As Lind and others argue we see a similar trend to the weakening, dissolution, or privatization of basic public institutions, be it in healthcare, education, security or transport in many (so-called) developed economies. In our latest book we argue that this retreat of the state and the privatization of what we refer to as basic entitlements of citizens is indeed happening. The interesting thing for us then is that a lot of business ethics, CSR - or whatever you might call it - is actually motivated by this shift. Or if you like – some form of ‘Brazilianization’ in Western societies.

This conspicuous role of companies in addressing those shifts is not at least visible in Brazil itself. Looking at the website of Ethos, Brazil’s leading CSR organization, or googling ‘CSR and Favela’ in fact shows that many companies have actively started to address some of the institutional void and social exclusion in these parts of the Brazilian society. In some ways then Brazil might actually offer some relevant lessons for companies and societies in the West.

1 comment:

  1. Read your post. BRAZILIANIZATION is still an opaque idea to me. Would appreciate some preface to it all. Just a suggestion as a reader.


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