Saturday the WSJ published a lengthy essay, The Middle-Class Revolution
All over the world, argues Francis Fukuyama, today’s political turmoil has a common theme: the failure of governments to meet the rising expectations of the newly prosperous and educated.
On Brazil, he states,
The situation in Brazil is rather different. The protesters there will not face tough repression from President Rousseff’s administration. Rather, the challenge will be avoiding co-optation over the long term by the system’s entrenched and corrupt incumbents. Middle-class status does not mean that an individual will automatically support democracy or clean government. Indeed, a large part of Brazil’s older middle class was employed by the state sector, where it was dependent on patronage politics and state control of the economy. Middle classes there, and in Asian countries like Thailand and China, have thrown their support behind authoritarian governments when it seemed like that was the best means of securing their economic futures.
Brazil’s recent economic growth has produced a different and more entrepreneurial middle class rooted in the private sector. But this group could follow its economic self-interest in either of two directions. On the one hand, the entrepreneurial minority could serve as the basis of a middle-class coalition that seeks to reform the Brazilian political system as a whole, pushing to hold corrupt politicians accountable and to change the rules that make client-based politics possible. This is what happened in the U.S. during the Progressive Era, when a broad middle-class mobilization succeeded in rallying support for civil-service reform and an end to the 19th-century patronage system. Alternatively, members of the urban middle class could dissipate their energies in distractions like identity politics or get bought off individually by a system that offers great rewards to people who learn to play the insiders’ game.
REUTERS Brazil’s recent economic growth has produced an entrepreneurial middle class. Above,aprotest in Rio de Janeiro on June 20.
There is no guarantee that Brazil will follow the reformist path in the wake of the protests. Much will depend on leadership. President Rousseff has a tremendous opportunity to use the uprisings as an occasion to launch a much more ambitious systemic reform. Up to now she has been very cautious in how far she was willing to push against the old system, constrained by the limitations of her own party and political coalition. But just as the 1881 assassination of President James A. Garfield by a disappointed office-seeker became the occasion for wide-ranging clean-government reforms in the U.S., so too could Brazil use the occasion of the protests to shift onto a very different course today.
My hunch is that, in the long run, they’ll “get bought off individually by a system that offers great rewards to people who learn to play the insiders’ game.” The current system is too deeply entrenched.