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Brazil Is a Flawed Meritocracy in More Ways than Just One

05/08/2018 - 12h13

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JOEL PINHEIRO
COLUMNIST AT FOLHA

Irish economist Marc Morgan Milá provoked Brazil by raising the following question: "How can one defend the narrative of a meritocracy when Brazil is the country that least taxes inheritance?".

Milá is referring to a specific notion of "meritocracy": a society in which the position that a person occupies both socially and economically is based on merit; in other words, by an individual's own efforts. At the outset, all kids would have equal opportunity; whether one kid becomes a CEO and another kid becomes a garbage man is completely defined by how dedicated they are, by how much work each one of them puts in and by the choices that each one makes in terms of the importance they attribute to money and other key aspects of life.

Such a society would only be possible if all conditions were the same for everyone from the very beginning.

Suppose we started taxing inheritances like they do in the US, where the rate can reach up to 40%. If we did, would we become a meritocracy? Far from it. Even if Brazil heavily taxed inheritances and Milá returned at a later date he would still wonder the same exact thing: how can you speak of a meritocracy if people's starting conditions are not strictly the same?

The answer to this question is that when people talk about living in a meritocracy they aren't talking about that sort of utopia in which an individual's own efforts solely determine where they stand in society. Rather, they are referring to a necessary ingredient that determines the progress that each individual can make.

Very few people have the chance to go from being extremely poor to becoming a millionaire, but many, through their own efforts, are able to improve their lives and provide their children with the opportunities that they themselves did not have when they were younger.

In this case, "meritocracy" means a system in which individuals make progress and reap the fruits of their own efforts.

Brazil is a flawed meritocracy in this latter sense as well. It is a country in which those who wish to make progress are met with obstacles; it is a country that gets in the way of employers and employees; it sabotages the entrepreneurial spirit (which is simply the desire to climb the social ladder through one's own efforts) by imposing bureaucracy and inefficient rules; it fails to provide society with basic education and healthcare conditions; and, in the end, it takes away a significant portion of the fruits of a citizen's own labor.

In light of this, I would like to rephrase Milá's original question: how can we speak of a meritocracy with such a bulky and inefficient government - a government that some people want to make even bulkier?

Translated by THOMAS MATHEWSON

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