A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here.
It’s the afternoon of Saturday, July 7, 2018. The place is Salvador, a city on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, the third largest state capital in the country. It is the beginning of school mid-term vacations.
A group of about 20 college students in their late teens/early twenties gathers at a bookstore to discuss economics and politics. Sitting on the floor, they are holding copies of Economics in One Lesson, The Law, and “I, Pencil.” Some are wearing t-shirts proclaiming, “Less Marx, More Mises!” They meet only once a month in person, but on a daily basis they use a WhatsApp group called “Anti-Statist Front” that is filled with messages from hundreds of members in heated debates. What do they all have in common? A deep fondness for liberty and a connection to FEE.
The indoctrination here is so pervasive that even television soap operas advance socialist values and ideas. Being anti-capitalism is a sine qua non condition for someone to be considered a decent human being.
Ten years ago, when I was their age, that meeting was not even imaginable. Brazil is perhaps the country in the Western world with the most Marxist-themed theses and Ph.D. dissertations published. The indoctrination here is so pervasive that even television soap operas advance socialist values and ideas. Being anti-capitalism is a sine qua non condition for someone to be considered a decent human being. It is no exaggeration to say that many youngsters from my generation had Che Guevara’s face tattooed on their upper arms.
But do not despair. I am happy to report to supporters of the Foundation for Economic Education that, thanks in part to you, things are changing! We are witnessing in our day nothing less than the liberation of millions of Brazilian minds.
The Role of the Internet and FEE’s Presence in Brazil
Presented by organizations like FEE from the US and a growing number of vibrant, homegrown Brazilian groups, these contributions have given birth to a full-blown libertarian movement in Brazil.
Much of this emancipation is due to the Internet and its capacity to viralize content. Since a vast number of people gained access to broadband Internet in the country over the past decade, Marxist and other statist myths that used to be unchallengeable were proved wrong by new and fresh ideas. Presented by organizations like FEE from the US and a growing number of vibrant, homegrown Brazilian groups, these contributions have given birth to a full-blown libertarian movement in Brazil.
“Outside of the US, Brazil is the number one country in the world for sheer quantity of re-posts, reprints, translations, and distribution of our content,” says FEE president Lawrence W. Reed. He’ll be making his fifth and sixth visits to the country to speak in Santa Maria on November 9 and then in Florianopolis on March 15, 2019.
Lisiane Gomes of Instituto Atlantos in the southern Brazil city of Porto Alegre wrote an article earlier this year for the FEE web site about a Brazilian hero, Carlota Pereira de Queiroz. In a recent conversation with me, Lisiane noted:
The libertarian movement took some time to be recognized by Brazilians. Starting in small groups that never gave up spreading the ideas, libertarianism finally reached the universities and a strong exchange of information started all around. One of the biggest problems in Brazil is the lack of quality discussion on topics like economics, philosophy, and history. Universities are still citadels of wrong ideas, but we have some footholds now. Institutions like FEE brought quality information for everybody, both in print and via online content and courses, clarifying the discussion and paving the way for a promising future for liberty.
In addition to spreading the word online through its articles, course offerings, and web seminars, FEE has also made a difference in Brazil by partnering with local institutions that often send Brazilian students to its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and to other cities around the US where FEE holds events. In just the past few years, there have been a total of 97 students from Brazil who went to a FEE seminar, including six at this year’s 2018 FEEcon in Atlanta. Also, two Brazilian students have interned in Atlanta. One of them, Pedro Mutzig—a law student from Vitória in the coastal state of Espírito Santo—stresses the importance of the organization for his educational and professional development:
FEE was crucial in my academic and professional education. In July 2016, I had my first contact with the Foundation when I went to the "Economic Growth, Bubbles & The Illusion of Prosperity" seminar in Fort Myers, Florida. I met dozens of bright students and scholars and talked to them about the ideas of liberty. Six months later, in December 2016, I had the opportunity to be an intern at FEE. It was another incredible moment. I helped in the planning of seminars including the big one, FEEcon, in addition to translating a course into Portuguese. FEE is undoubtedly one of the pro-liberty institutions with the greatest impact on the lives of Brazilian students, having provided international opportunities for young people like me through scholarships. It is institutions such as FEE that shape and transform individuals into active fighters for a freer society.
Pedro, incidentally, is another example of a young Brazilian who’s been given the opportunity to publish on FEE’s popular website (which attracts more than a million unique visitors every month). In September, he wrote this article about a hero for liberty from our country, Domingos José Martins.
Another notable Brazilian freedom fighter impacted by FEE is Fabio Ostermann, a political scientist who was recently elected state deputy in Rio Grande do Sul. Lawrence Reed says:
I had the privilege of serving a couple of years ago on a panel at the Liberty Forum in Porto Alegre with my friends Fabio and Helio Beltrao of the Mises Institute-Brazil, two of the most eloquent advocates for liberty on the continent. These are two men to whom the liberty movement in Brazil owes a great debt.
Ostermann remembers how FEE guided his way to the ideas of liberty and gave him the motivation to lead similar initiatives in Brazil:
FEE was one of my first contacts with the American libertarian movement and especially with the idea that we could have, here in Brazil, a genuine, coherent movement to reach beyond small groups. I participated in FEE’s Freedom University in 2008 and Advanced Austrian Seminar in 2009. FEE was responsible for motivating me even more to try to make a difference here in Brazil promoting the ideas of liberty, and I am very grateful to both FEE and Lawrence Reed, as well as all his staff for that.
Another FEE seminar alum, Adriano Gianturco, now teaches students as a professor of political science at Brazil’s Instituto Brasileiro de Mercado de Capitais (IBMEC). Along with Luciana Lopes, he too has been published on FEE.org. Just last year, he wrote “Why Brazilians are Demanding ‘Menos Marx, Mais Mises.’”
Yet another recent FEE seminar alum, Pedro Tavares, is currently president of the Instituto de Formação de Líderes de Santa Catarina, which is sponsoring Mr. Reed’s March 2019 lecture in Florianopolis.
Qualifying the Education in Brazil
One of the biggest problems in Brazil is the generally low quality of education. And that is to be blamed not only on the counterproductive investments made by the government on its own monopoly schools but also on how the notion of education itself has been perverted by so-called “progressive” intellectuals. This affects the performance of teachers in the classroom, as well as student outcomes. As a coordinator for Educação sem Estado—“Education Without the State”—Anamaria Camargo from Salvador, in my state of Bahia, says that being a libertarian educator in Brazil is no simple chore. According to her, the mentality of the professionals is the hardest task to be addressed:
Most Brazilians professionally involved in education have been deeply indoctrinated by “progressives” to whom the notion of education without government interference is anathema. As a matter of fact, this perception is part of a broader view, according to which, without the state in all important areas of human life, people are rendered incapable of acting on their own behalf. It is no surprise that all Brazilian governments have done their best to foster and maintain this view of state dependency through mandatory teacher certification based on a national curriculum imposed even on private schools through a quasi-monopoly of public schools and through tight regulations for private schools.
She adds that the situation has improved lately, though, thanks to the influence of FEE in the country:
This unfortunate scenario has, however, been slowly changing. One of the major movers in this change is the Foundation for Economic Education. Through the sharing of FEE articles on the topic of education, many teachers and education planners have for the first time encountered scientifically supported evidence of successful education practices without government interference. I am quite hopeful that the solution to state indoctrination in education can be effectively challenged if we make sound and credible information more accessible to all. In this sense, there is a much broader space for FEE to help us fill.
An example of a private college in Brazil with a pro-liberty perspective is Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo, founded in 1870 by an American missionary of Scottish ancestry. Boasting more than 40,000 students and additional campuses in Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Barueri, Brasilia, and Campinas, it also runs a private K-12 school for another 4,000 students. Two years ago, it inaugurated the Mackenzie Center for Economic Freedom at the São Paulo campus, run by Dr. Vladimir Fernandes Maciel. One of the first speakers the Center brought to campus was FEE’s President Reed.
The influence of FEE in our country of nearly 210 million people can also be measured by some impressive figures. Amazingly, Mr. Reed counts more than 40,000 Brazilian fans on his personal Facebook page, and that number is rising fast. On his personal website, Brazilians are the number one source of visitors, after Americans. Another 6,500 Brazilians are fans of the FEE Facebook page, and thousands of others follow the organization on various other social media.
Local translators have also worked together with FEE to promote the ideas of liberty in their native language. Matheus Pacini from Transgreat refers to the extensive translations and subtitling he has done for FEE:
In Brazil, I have translated more than 200 articles from FEE into Portuguese, as well as many videos. Sociedade Aberta is republishing the articles originally published at Libertarianismo.org (now closed). There are some published at Atlantos, as well. Currently, I am subtitling some videos from the FEE’s Common Sense Soapbox series and republishing them at Objetivismo Brasil after finishing the translation of four FEE courses and The Essential Henry Hazlitt eBook.
A Source of Light Across the Globe
João Pedro Machado Vieira, president of Instituto Atlantos, knows from experience how important it is for think tanks in Brazil to count on foreign partners like FEE. He says the enlightenment FEE has brought to the country has created a new source of light across the globe:
As the great Brazilian economist Roberto Campos used to say, Brazil has always been navigating on a boat guided by a light on its bow. Leonard Read (FEE’s esteemed founder) once said that darkness is to ignorance the same that light is to enlightenment; and in the same way that darkness has absolutely no resistance to light, ignorance has no resistance to enlightenment. In his talk, while holding a candle in the middle of darkness, Read challenged the audience to create new spots of light by distributing, marketing, or selling the candle. The only way to spread this enlightenment is to create new candles, new sources of light across the globe. For 72 years, FEE has been following Read’s teaching by creating new candles (or “blinking lights” as its current president likes to say). FEE was certainly responsible for creating new spots of light in Brazil—and they’re slowly but surely being placed where they will the guide the boat.
When Brazilian activists for liberty go to the U.S., they often arrange a visit to FEE in Atlanta. The latest is Georges Ebel, the Institutional Relations Director for the Leadership Training Institute in Sao Paulo. IFL-SP is a non-profit organization formed by young entrepreneurs and promising executives who are, or will be, in leadership positions in their respective organizations (public or private) in a few years. Georges will be meeting with Mr. Reed and the FEE leadership in November to form a new partnership to promote the shared values of individual freedom, rule of law, private property, and free markets. Last year, IFL-SP’s big annual event attracted more than 1,000 attendees in person and over 60,000 viewers online.
After decades of leftist/statist thinking hegemony in the arts, culture, and academia, Brazil has finally begun to question such dominance. We are connecting with groups like FEE and creating sources to help in our country’s liberation from a long-time monopoly of ideas. FEE can proudly say it has played a paramount role in this journey by influencing, inspiring, educating, and connecting future leaders with the economic, ethical, and legal principles of a free society. We Brazilians are very grateful for this collaboration. Hopefully, it is just getting started.
Many of the FEE articles translated into Portuguese can now be found here.
FEE has arranged the translation of two eBooks into Portuguese, which can both be downloaded here:
FEE’s president Lawrence Reed authored this May 2017 article about the situation in Brazil and, earlier this year, conducted this interview with three Brazilian libertarian candidates for federal Congress, two of whom (Marcel van Hattem and Kim Kataguiri) won seats in the October 2018 elections.