(p. 9) . . . “Brazillionaires” offers more than a flat collection of billionaire tales. Cuadros shrewdly presents his collage of immense wealth against an underlying background of corruption. There are kickbacks for government contracts. There are gigantic taxpayer subsidies: In 2009 alone, the state-run development bank, BNDES, lent out $76 billion, “more than the World Bank lent out in the entire world.” And of course there are lavish campaign contributions, attached to the inevitable quid pro quos. JBS, which leveraged government loans to become the largest meatpacking company in the world, spent $180 million on the 2014 elections alone. “If every politician who had received JBS money formed a party,” Cuadros writes, “it would be the largest in Congress.”
In his telling, Brazilians seem to embrace the cozy relationship between business and government as a source of pride rather than a risk for conflicts of interest. In one passage, Cuadros underscores the contrast between Adam Smith and the 19th-century Brazilian thinker José da Silva Lisboa, viscount of Cairu. Lisboa’s “Principios de Economía Politica” was meant to be an adaptation of Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” But rather than present a paean to the invisible hand of the market, the viscount offered a rather paternalistic view of economic progress.
“The sovereign of each nation must be considered the chief or head of a vast family,” he wrote, “and thus care for all those therein like his children, cooperating for the greater good.” Swap “government” for “sovereign” and the passage still serves as an accurate guide to the Brazilian development strategy. It’s just that some children — the Marinhos, the Camargos — are cared for better than others.
. . .
It would be wrong, . . . , to understand Brazil’s plutocracy as the product of some unique outcrop of corruption. The hold on political power by the rich is hardly an exclusive feature of Brazil. Latin America has suffered for generations from the collusion between government and business. Where I grew up, in Mexico, it is the norm.
For the full review, see:
EDUARDO PORTER. “Real Rich.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 24, 2016): 9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 22, 2016, and has the title “Watching Brazil’s Rich: A Full-Time Job.”)
The book under review, is:
Cuadros, Alex. Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.