It’s rather odd that capitalism in the United States is often thought as an economic system that primarily benefits the wealthy. In many other parts of the world, the promise of free enterprise is seen as a godsend by the middle class and poor.
Case in point: the Free Brazil Movement (Moviemento Brasil Livre), a ragtag team college-age kids that has galvanized its South American nation in favor of freer markets and government transparency after a major corruption scandal plagued the current administration.
On March 15, Free Brazil organized the largest demonstration São Paulo has seen since the country’s last dictatorship in 1984, with over 200,000 Brazilians taking to the streets to demand the removal of President Dilma Rousseff from power.
Now the movement, led by 19-year-old Kim Kataguiri, is embarking on a 33-day, 621-mile march from São Paulo to the capital Brasília, following a route the Portuguese bandeirantes took when settling the country in the 17th century.
Lest there be any doubt about mixed motivations behind the movement, Kataguiri is remarkably clear on its goals: “We defend free markets, lower taxes, and the privatization of all public companies.” Citing Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Margaret Thatcher, and Rand Paul as influences, Kataguiri and his crew are bona fide libertarians. In fact, Kataguiri is even a local coordinator with the international libertarian nonprofit Students For Liberty (SFL), my employer.
Yet, besides receiving free training and a few books from SFL, Free Brazil is a low-budget operation of its own. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any big sponsors,” Kataguiri told The Guardian. “The government and some sectors of the press say that we are financed by rich people. We would have no problem in being financed by rich people.”
Kim himself is a college dropout and the son of a metal worker — not exactly born with a silver spoon in mouth.
As perplexing as this middle-class sympathy to free enterprise may seem, it makes total sense in a country that’s been ravaged by decades of government corruption from the left and military coups from the right. Today, Brazil is experiencing soaring inflation, stagnating GDP, and a rising unemployment rate.
The future doesn’t look bright if the current tax-and-spend policies continue, either. Just last year, PwC ranked Brazil as having the world’s most burdensome tax code in terms of hours it takes to comply — a whopping 2,600 per year. The country’s business climate isn’t conducive to growth either, with one of the highest top corporate tax rates in the world at 34 percent.
Economics aside, Brazil’s government still has trouble enforcing the rule of law. Despite being an industrialized society, the country has the eighteenth highest murder rate in the world at 21.5 per 100,000 people.
Clearly something needs to change, and many Brazilians have realized that more government is not the answer.
Free Brazil’s story is a common one we see at SFL. Students all around the world, often from humble backgrounds, are becoming inspired to fight for the basic tenets of a free society that their countries lack: free speech, property rights, the rule of law, economic freedom.
Free enterprise is not always seen internationally as a rich man’s game to exploit the poor. In many cases, it’s seen as a poor man’s chance to make a better life for himself by getting the government out of the way. For the sake of world prosperity, let’s hope future generations like Kataguiri’s succeed.