As the fifth largest country in the world, Brazil’s tropical and subtropical landscape covers roughly 2,700 miles and includes some of the world’s most abundant resources. Occupying half of South America, Brazil contains a significant portion of the Amazon River basin, “which has the world’s largest river system and the world’s most extensive virgin rainforest,”. Containing one-third of the world’s rainforests, Brazil’s landscape traverses across rivers, mountains, wetlands and highlands that complement the dominantly tropical climate.
Considered one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Brazil’s rainforests are “home to more than 1,000 bird species, 3,000 fish species and many mammal and reptiles such as alligators, dolphins and manatees,”. Not only does Brazil share borders with almost every country in South America, but the country is home to 225 indigenous groups that have over time combined their cultures in order to form the current Brazilian way of life.
The vast expanse of forests, extensive river systems, and long coastline contribute to the country’s abundance of resources.
Brazil is a dominant producer of rich mineral reserves, including tin, copper, granite and iron ore that allow it to be one of the world’s leaders in mining. Brazil is the primary producer of coffee in the world, in addition to maintaining the status of a leading exporter in oranges, soybeans and beef. Trading primarily with China and the United States, foreign trade has been a critical factor in the sustainment of their economy. Alongside their vast resources, Brazil’s manufacturing accounts for around one-fifth of their GDP and includes clothing, soaps, textiles, automobiles and steel .
Lastly, Brazil’s economy is driven by their quickly expanding service sector, in which employment runs high in government services, hospitality industries, and private sector workers. The nation’s “burgeoning cities, huge hydroelectric and industrial complexes, mines, and fertile farmlands make it one of the world’s major economies,”. Yet despite all of the ways in which Brazil is advantaged, the South American country has consistently struggled with underdevelopment not only in the past but in the modern world.
Brazil today is considered a developing country “due to its low living standards, high infant mortality rate and other factors,” . The country’s high infant mortality rate can be attributed to a lack of access to sufficient health care, lack of clean drinking water, and subpar living conditions, especially in the more rural areas. In terms of subpar living conditions, Brazil’s income distribution is among the most unequal in the world. In 2014, as the graph on the left shows, the top one percent of Brazilians owned around 28% of the total national income and the top 10 percent owned around 55%, while the bottom 50% of Brazilians shared around only 13%. The high levels of inequality extend not only in terms of income distribution but in land distribution. In 2015, “one percent of the population controlled 50 percent of all the land in Brazil,”. Contrastingly, the other 99 percent of the population must coexist in the other remaining land which in turn increases the level of difficulty of improving their economic status.
Another factor that contributes to Brazil’s lack of development is ironically their geography. While the country contains a plethora of natural resources, the resources were too far away “from potential markets for profitable exploitation until the late nineteenth or twentieth century,” . Without a network of railroads or methods of transportation, much of Brazil’s resource remain difficult to access and export. The lack of infrastructure, coupled with the environmental costs of deforestation, contribute to the insufficient exploitation of the country’s critical resources. During the colonial period, the only commodities that could be exploited in the country’s interior were slaves and cattle.
Furthermore, the period of slavery in Brazil severely damaged their long term economy because the country failed to educate the slaves whose descendants ultimately became part of the post-slavery working world. Because the slaves working in Brazil received minimal amounts of education, the country as a whole faces a huge educational gap that contributes to increasing levels of inequality and poverty.
Although all of the factors above contribute to the lack of development in Brazil, the most influential factor that explains Brazil’s lack of success in the modern world is their high levels of corruption in government. From the top politicians to the lower level officials, corruption in Brazil spans across every level of society, which in turn negatively affects critical aspects of their development. In 2017, Brazil scored a disappointing 37 points out of 100 on the Corruption Perceptions Index, which “ranks countries/territories in terms of the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians,” . According to Transparency International, Brazil dropped to 96th on the Corruption Perceptions Index, now below countries such as Rwanda and Burkina Faso in terms of politics, morality and transparency . Brazil is easily Source: Transparency International one of the most corrupt countries in the world, which ultimately contributes to the drastic levels of poverty, the lack of economic development, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The higher the corruption that exists in a country, “the lower is social indicators are, which worsens the quality of life of its population,”. Corruption in Brazil affects “all the layers of the society, and it is considered as a strong constraint on development and economic growth,” .
Brazil’s corruption can be traced back to their colonial era, in which the Portuguese settled the land in order to create a colony that would provide exports to the Crown and to spread Christianity. During the period of slavery, land distribution was extremely unequal, as a high concentration of the country’s land was owned by a few wealthy landowners while the masses fought over what was left. Because the elite group of landowners held all of the wealth, they had the ability to influence government officials to their advantage. The unequal income distribution, coupled with the unequal land distribution, allowed those elite landowners to control the ways in which the country ran on a multitude of levels.
Government policy “has consistently favored the 5 to 10 percent of the population who control most of the wealth and have been able to control the levers of government,” . During the Brazilian colonial era, the federal government acted as a means for the redistribution of land and wealth among the rich and poor. The voices that criticized Brazil’s land and income distribution were unheard, and the resulting distribution “reflects the political power of the elite, which has controlled governmental economic policymaking,”. As a result, “the real presence of corruption in Brazilian colonial society, and to a large extent, living with their practices forged a feature of tolerance in these and subsequent generations of Brazilians,” .
The end of the colonial period was not the end of the elite’s control over government decision making. Powerful landlords still have a persistent influence on the ways in which the land is distributed, and in many cases have significant influence over the police. Even today, “land in Brazil is a source of power. The landowners are the powerful. Inequality in Brazil can be traced directly to who owns land,” . The influence that these powerful elite have over the police and politicians stems not only from the government’s desire to satisfy the wealthy Brazilian’s desires but from blatant bribery. Politicians first and foremost will do whatever they need to do in order to attain the critical vote of the Brazilian elite, adjusting their policies to appeal to the small percentage of the population with disregard for the masses. These leaders consistently advantage the elite while disadvantage the poor in their policymaking, which further widens the income distribution gap. Because of this, the country cannot further its development in any substantial capacity, as there is a seemingly endless cycle where the elite elect politicians who will favor them, those politicians implement policies that favor the elite, and then the elite have enough power to re-elect those politicians.
Another way in which corruption contributes to Brazil’s relative failure in the modern world is through the illegal trade of Brazil’s natural resources. “Illegal logging and timber trade is a strain on Brazil’s natural resource governance,” as well as a wood laundering process where “companies use fraudulent paperwork to bring illegal wood from protected or otherwise critical areas of the Amazon to be processed and exported,”. In the process of wood laundering, wealthy landowners cut down hundreds of trees and then sell the wood for their profit, with slim to no oversight from the government. The Brazilian government has simply decided to turn a blind eye in these instances specifically to indulge the desires of the elite Brazilian class. As a result, deforestation has severely hurt Brazil’s economy, as corruption “allegedly stretch[es] embarrassingly deep into the government’s deforestation control system,”. Ultimately, the corrupt allowance of deforestation by government officials further hinders the development of Brazil because deforestation provides no long term social or economic benefit for the country as a whole.
As corrupt politicians continue to be re-elected by the elite class, they continue to make decisions that benefit their powerful supporters which in turn further disadvantages the general public. The general public, knowing that because their leader is corrupt their general position in the income distribution scale most likely won’t fluctuate regardless of their own actions, are then not incentivized to work. Brazil’s current political climate disallows movement in social class based on the corruption of government officials, and therefore the country as a whole doesn’t advance in terms of manufacturing, production, and technology. Since the vast majority of the country’s voices aren’t heard, they are disincentivized to innovate, “and as a result emerging countries are usually the importers of technology, because such technology is not created within their own societies,”. On the other hand, corruption pushes away international trade with foreign investors, because investors will refrain from trading with corrupt countries. Consequently, Brazil’s economy faces issues both with their ability to import and export due to the influence of corruption.
Other effects that corruption has had on the lack of development in Brazil is the decrease in quality of education and healthcare. Unfortunately, in Brazil, “oversight and transparency councils that monitor education spending are ineffective, poorly resourced, and frequently captured by local politicians,”. The lack of transparency in the education system allows politicians to embezzle funds and corruption in education denies students the proper chance to develop. In terms of healthcare, “corruption in the designation of healthcare providers and recruitment of personnel, as well as the procurement of medical supplies and equipment, in emerging economies results in inadequate healthcare treatment” and lowers the quality of people’s lives. Without access to a proper education and healthcare system, Brazilians have not been able to advance their personal development, and in turn the country’s development.
Lastly, corruption affects the reliability and effectiveness of Brazil’s law enforcement. The Brazilian police force accepts bribes from criminals and drug cartels, which creates a high level of distrust in the police as well as encourages people to commit crimes because they can pay to get out of the repercussions. The “relationships between police, drug trafficking and organized crime have become a hallmark” of the last couple of decades in Brazil, and tackling police corruption is paramount to fight against drug trafficking. When the police force is so corrupt that it will release anyone from a crime so long as they pay their way out of it, the entire stability of the country collapses. Without a trustworthy, reliable police force, the country inevitably will turn to chaos and face a regression of progress in terms of its development, as no laws are enforced to regulate the country.
Although there are many counter arguments as to why Brazil lacks development as stated above, corruption ultimately affects all aspects of the Brazilian way of life. Corruption in Brazil is “a driver of general dissatisfactions, lack of credibility, displeasure and social distress, with many political and economic losses as well as delays in the social development,”. Instead of the individual arguments that Brazil’s lack of development stems from individual components such as the allocation of resources, distribution of wealth, distribution of land, education, healthcare, and slavery, corruption is an umbrella that affects every component of the lack of success in Brazil.