Brazil: Happiness

A survey rated Puerto Ricans and Mexicans as the happiest people in the world.  From Brazil, Joe Listo writes: It comes as no surprise to me that Brazilians no longer rank among the world´s happiest. Years ago, movie maker Fellini visited Brazil and stated he was absolutely convinced Brazilians were the truly happiest people on earth. Well, we are not laughing anymore. Widespread unemployment, sky-rocketing crime rates and a complete inaction on the part of the government to ease social tensions has zipped the mouth of an almost disappearing middle-class. After two consecutive terms of Fernando Cardoso and a disastrous "socialist" agenda attempted by Lula da Silva (never fulfilled), the result is still the same: the rich got richer (that is, banks) and the poor, poorer. If not for Carnival and soccer, the so-called "people´s opium", Brazil would be in a turmoil and possibly taken over again by the military. I wonder how Lula can sleep at night with the minimum-wage at US$140.00. RH: Per week? Carnival in Rio gives foreigners a wrong impression of Brazil. Rio is now a very dangerous, unhappy place.

Clyde McMorrow, who knows Brazil well, writes: I am sorry to read Joe Listo's report about the social conditions in Rio.  The Brazilian minimum wage, the salario, is monthly.  $140/month is about where it has been for some time.  It is nothing in the cities but a little better in the rural areas.  In the countryside, families can live well locally for about $500 / month or 3 salarios.  While this is supposed to be a minimum wage, many jobs are advertised for a fraction of this.  Maids in rural households frequently receive 1/2 salario but get food and shelter also.  Poverty has always been a serious problem in Brazil as elsewhere, but most of the solutions I hear proposed are not realistic, at least in the case of Brazil.  We hear a lot about land reform, but the poor flock to the cities to get jobs that pay immediate cash, no matter how small the amount.  Many of the favela (slum) residents also have farms in the Northeast but do not have the capital to work them.  Brazilian farming is following the path of the U.S. Midwest: large, highly mechanized, farms that require less and less manpower.  The small farmer working 5 acres cannot compete with the highly capitalized industrial farms and is soon driven off the land or into the cities in search of hourly pay.
Even Brazilian factories are highly automated.  The automobile industry is about the same as in the U.S.  Again, there is no demand for masses of untrained and uneducated workers.  They need highly skilled electricians, computer programmers, robot maintenance people.  The Brazilians know this, and the goal of every family is to send their children to the university.  I heard this in the big cities, in the rural areas and from indigenous groups in the Amazon.  They know it will take a generation.
Rio is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Joe is right about Carnival; it is a show for tourists, but it is also a connection with the past for most Brazilians.  I don't go to Copacabana or Ipanema anymore, but I still visit the old central city whenever possible.  I usually stay across the bay in Niteroi and go to Rio daily by boat.  It is a wonderful way to start the day.  It is not an old city and the remains of most of the historical engineering projects are still visible, many still operational.  The site of the first railroad is gracefully decaying by the side of the road in Maua,  the empress' fountain - the first public water system - can be found near Corcovado if one digs through the weeds a bit,  the aqueduct is now a bridge for the trolley line,  the first hydroelectric plant is still in use.  Many Brazilians are interested in preserving these artifacts and there are some excellent small museums.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 8, 2005