Brazil Needs to Impeach Statism to End Corruption

corrupción en Brasil
By now, it is clear that corruption is widespread among all major parties in Brazil. (Molina Curitiba)

EspañolPredictably, Brazil’s new, interim administration has seen one of its ministers, Romero Jucá, mired in a scandal that has forced him to step down.

The scandal began when a recorded conversation came to light that allegedly had Jucá suggesting to another senior member of his own party that a “national pact” should be made between interim President Michel Temer and the judicial branch.

The purported goal would be diverting attention away from the Car Wash operation, which investigates the largest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history at the state-owned oil giant Petrobras and which has landed many top politicians and business leaders in jail.

The recording is from March, when Jucá was just a senator and Temer still the vice president, but it was released on May 23 by the mainstream newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

When the story broke out, followed by similar recordings among members of the now ruling PMDB party, indignation took over Brazil. Leftists and supporters of the suspended President Dilma Rousseff carried out demonstrations in several major cities, shouting “We want Temer out!” and “Coup d’Etat!”

This situation comes at a time when the interim president is trying to earn his legitimacy, having recently introduced a bill to repair the economy that focuses heavily on reducing public spending.

With this objective in mind, Temer also proposed to reform the Constitution in order to establish a ceiling to government expenses. In addition, he wants to roll back state intervention into the economy, opening up space in the private sector.

The recording scandal has emboldened President Rousseff and her followers. She stated that Jucá’s conversation confirms there was a coup plot in the form of impeachment.

The former Secretary of Government said that the recording “demonstrates the real reason for the coup carried out against democracy and against Rousseff’s legitimate mandate.”

Faced with the widespread corruption among Brazil’s political and business elite, it seems fair to ask: Did it really help to take power away from Rousseff if the ones replacing her are not any less corrupt? Is the impeachment trial an attack against democracy?

I believe that what is happening in Brazil is quite positive, provided that the ongoing investigations are not truncated. That is to say, that judges should continue to act independently, with courage and with thoroughness. The proper course of action would have three very relevant political, social, and moral consequences:

  • It would punish the guilty.
  • It would send a strong message to future generations regarding how to handle public affairs.
  • Democracy would be strengthened, as it would show ordinary citizens that democratic institutions work and the law is the same for everyone.

Politically and legally, the impeachment and reforms are a necessary mitigation effort, but they do not address Brazil’s underlying problem: corruption.

Until the roots of evil are not cut, politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats, and lobbyists will find new ways to profit from the public.

Statism Facilitates Corruption

Corruption finds fertile ground in economic interventionism. Every time you need a permit or a license to do business, the temptation to take and offer shortcuts creeps in. Special laws designed to favor certain economic activities over others lack transparency and arbitrariness.

This abundance of red tape and political considerations guiding economic policies make businessmen prone to finance campaigns in order to receive privileges later on.

If we want to really shrink corruption — in Brazil or anywhere else — the remedy is clear: separate the political and economic realms. Government should not have the power to bestow privileges or meddle with the market. It should limit itself to guaranteeing the rule of law and defense against criminals.

If we truly want to end corruption, then we have to eradicate the incentives that give it life.

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