Last week Time magazine had a cover feature about moving up
in America compared with what it was fifty or sixty years ago during the
economic boom that came in the years after World War II – a time heralded by
many as one of the best times in this country. In a very blunt and very
discouraging statement, one writer stated that the chances of moving up the
social-economic ladder are better today if one is willing to “move to Denmark.”
That issue and conversations I had while I was in Brazil
last September got me to thinking: Is it time to return to Brazil and take
advantage of its current economic boom?
The answer to that one is not easy.
However, it is a definite maybe.
The fact is that despite of what everyone is saying about
the South American giant, there are many things that discourage me of doing so.
The first is simple: in spite of how the country is doing, there are still too
many social and economic disparities going on there.
For instance, salaries there are still way below par in
comparison to the US. For instance, a young man I know has a government job
that many would consider a good position here. Sure, he is still starting out,
but he should be better remunerated for the kind of work he does. Travel is still a luxury to many. For
instance, a two-way trip from Fortaleza to Rio sets you back as much as $ 700
US – a value that is prohibitive to many working-class Brazilians (in
comparison, you can get to Miami from New York for as little as $ 200).
There are many who blame Brazil’s overprotective labor laws
for their lower salaries. True, Brazilian law regulates everything from
overtime to paid holidays and vacation days – but their laws are not much
different from their counterparts in say, France or Great Britain. The reason for so many laws is that many
business owners there are inherently dishonest – pretty much like the
union-busting corporations you see in the United States.
There is also the unspoken issue of the social ‘castes” that
exist there. Though the government has worked hard to eradicate poverty with a
great number of educational programs, there are still many who believe certain individuals should ‘know their place.’ During our recent visit to Fortaleza, I heard an upper middle-class woman whine that her cleaning lady is taking computer classes –
what, did she expect this person to be eternally subservient and grateful for
picking up after her boss’ family?
The truth is that there are many changes going on in the country, and this makes the upper middle class – who have always had maids, gardeners and the like on the cheap – very uncomfortable. I mean, I know people who have been working for rich families for generations with little or no hope of ‘sharing the wealth.’ Sure, some did get an education and went on to have a more prosperous life, but the vast majority just inherited their mother’s mops.
So it is for these and many other more personal reasons that I still say that I’d rather stay put for the time being. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t keep an open mind about it in the future.