So last week was my first time back to Brazil in 4 years. This is by far the longest I’ve been away so maybe this is the closest I ever got of getting a “foreign” vision of my dear bananaland. Here is what I saw:
– More police on the streets. At least in the neighborhoods I visited (South side of Sao Paulo) this was pretty evident. Not sure how effectiveness plays here, but it is at least a start.
– Commerce has grown a lot. Small shops, big Malls, all sorts of office buildings. I am not sure why the economic numbers are not that great… Visually the economy seems much bigger.
– Less homeless kids on the streets. You still see plenty, but it is clearly a better situation.
– Everything is amazingly expensive. From top to bottom, cars, food, gas, services, I could not find one thing that is considerably cheaper in Brazil when comparing to the US. Books are at least 100% more expensive, and it’s even worse with electronics. I can only wonder how much this impacts education and business in general.
– Slums are still everywhere. Being away for this long, it is revolting to see that the government is unable to at least organize this and create some sort of low income housing to replace this mess.
– No cultural diversity. This was really shocking. I went to several bookstores (Saraiva, Siciliano, Cultura) and found no book that could be considered right wing. No Ayn Rand, Friedman, Hayek, nothing. Not even Adam Smith! Of course, you could see Obama’s and Hillary’s books everywhere (I am not even going to start to talk about how easy it was to find Chomsky and others like him). On the other hand, there was not even a record of McCain’s in any catalog. To be fair, the one exception to the rule was Tim Hartford’s The Undercover Economist, which I found in one bookstore.
– I think that this government’s banning of all outdoor advertising has backfired big time. Because now all you can see is ugly graffiti and trash. Lots of trash, on the streets, parks, everywhere. I did see a report of some vandals being arrested for graffiti but this clearly has to be ramped up in some major way. The city looked as ugly as the worst parts of Newark… 20 years ago.
– Violence is still everywhere. You don’t feel safe driving, at home, not even in shopping malls. I met an Israeli girl on my way back and she said that Sao Paulo was the scariest place she’s ever been. No kidding.
– The traffic is really a joke. I can’t exactly describe it but that is not something that any city who claims to be civilized can have. The issue is not just the eternal bumper to bumper or the pot holes, but the total lawlessness and consequent war-like environment that you see everywhere. “Motoboys” reminded me of those gangs in Mad Max. Only angrier and multiplied by a zillion.
– Government in general is still a big failure. Anywhere you look, the Brazilian government is just a disaster after another. Corruption infests everything, from getting a license plate to getting a copy of your ID card. The labor laws are specially stupid and detrimental. A restaurant hires a waiter for instance, and he asks you not to be registered because he wants to receive unemployment. If he quits before you register (which is common), you still need to pay all kinds of legal penalties because if he sues your business you will definitely lose. All the absurdity of these financial shenanigans like the ’13rd salary’, compulsory retirement funds and such are just such a stupid waste of time and resources. I know business owners who spend the majority of their day dealing with this kind of totally senseless bureaucracy. The number of taxes, fees and tariffs one pays is simply revolting. The fact that the country continues to grow despite all of this is probably the greatest riddle of all.
So what’s the verdict?
I am still happy that I left. I continue to try and convince my family and friends to leave. The amount of energy and stress you have to endure to succeed in Brazil is just enormous when compared to other places. I am not even saying that the US is the only place to go. I would try going to Australia, Canada, Chile, anywhere really. Even worse, my confidence that the current improvement trend will continue is really low. The pervasiveness of pre-historic left wing ideas is downright scary.
Unless some other family emergency occurs, I am not really sure of when (or if) I will ever be back.