Book Review: The Brazilians

Joseph A. Page Perseus Books, Reading MA, 1995

Page provides an overview of Braziilian history and culture, but is far too free with his often economically naïve and leftish comments that add nothing whatever to the story. He seems to operate from the notion that profits equal ill, while labor is equated with virtue. One wonders how the Soviet Union, where profits were outlawed and labor (skilled and educated) was plentiful managed to force its way into the ranks of the third world over 70 years of Marxist experimentation and misery. Page’s views might have been a little less out of touch had they been published 10 years before Gorbachev, when there were still some serious economists who were still ignorant of what von Mises had shown six decades before — that in the final analysis socialism could not work because of how it distorted human incentives.

Page goes so far as to suggest that the United States may follow Brazil into economic ruin because of the market based policies that are increasing the size of the "economic pie," which necessarily increases the gap between rich and poor. Since the logical leap necessary to make such a conclusion requires the equivalent of rocket power, one can only wonder whether it instead represents an expression of the author’s hope (perhaps unconscious).

Like so many of his apparent ilk, it would be better for low income households to be even poorer so long as, in exchange, the affluent are less affluent. This "hope my neighbor’s barn burns down" philosophy may warm the hearts of comfortable elites who would never have to feel the pain of such policies, but would make the real poverty daily experienced by others even more desperate.

A good example of Page’s gratuitous comments is on page 491. After having praised the comparative economic success of Curitiba, capital of Parana, he goes on to attribute part of it to not having "allowed itself to be overwhelmed by … extensive, oppressive poverty." This is akin to crediting good health to not having allowed one’s self to be overwhelmed by disease. Perhaps Page is not completely aware of the special conditions that have made Curitiba and its less impressive than Chamber of Commerce hyped success possible. Or perhaps, he believes that Curitiba policies would have made Sao Paulo an urban planning paradise that would have successfully repelled the inconvenient impoverished millions who have moved there from the Northeast (where hopelessness sprawls even more than in Sao Paulo).

All in all, what could have been a literary triumph deteriorates into an extensive ideological pamphlet. I am in the market for a good history of Argentina under Peron. Page’s book on that subject is not in the running.


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