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Essential trust: Lessons from Brazil's trust crisis

Demonstrators hold banners reading "Institutional crisis in Brazil" and "Dilma knew" as they take part in a protest demanding the impeachment of Brazilian re-elected President Dilma Rousseff in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL        (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP via Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold banners reading "Institutional crisis in Brazil" and "Dilma knew" as they take part in a protest demanding the impeachment of Brazilian re-elected President Dilma Rousseff in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP via Getty Images)

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This is part III of our series Essential trust. Listen to part I and part II.

Brazilians don’t trust each other.

Some studies find that more than 60% of Brazilians don’t trust the people in their own communities.

Their trust of institutions is even more abysmal. The nation’s history points to why:

“Colonization, some level of corruption, international interference. That, added to the general feeling of, ‘These people don’t really represent us, or they don’t work for us.'”

Corruption and the subsequent trust gap are hurting the country as a whole.

Today, On Point: As trust levels in the United States decline, we look for lessons from Brazil. It’s episode III of our special series Essential Trust.


Chayenne Polimédio, she writes about Brazilian politics, civil society and rule of law. Senior research manager at the Partnership for Public Service. (@ChayPolimedio)

Rafael Ioris, professor of Latin American history at the University of Denver. Visiting professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Latin America in Paris.

Also Featured

Carlos Scartascini, co-author of Trust: The Key to Social Cohesion and Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Show Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Welcome to episode three of our special series, Essential trust. … What happens when trust is lost? We’ll look at what’s happened in one nation that has some of the lowest institutional and community trust rates in the world. And that country is Brazil.

So, some numbers in the United States, about half of Americans say they do not trust the country’s political parties. That’s according to a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank. In Brazil, the number is higher, much higher. 70% of Brazilians say they do not trust their political parties.

But perhaps you are thinking, okay, that makes sense. After all, political corruption is commonplace in Brazil. Several presidents have been impeached, including a president who was previously jailed on corruption charges and was just reelected last month. But interpersonal distrust in Brazil is almost as bad as institutional distrust. According to that same survey, about 20% of Americans have low levels of community trust in Brazil. 63% of Brazilians say they do not trust people in their own communities. Well, trust happens to be one of the strongest indicators of a nation’s potential economic growth and well-being. So what impact has those low trust rates had on a nation as huge, diverse and resource rich as Brazil?

Well, today we’re joined by Chayenne Polimédio. She writes about Brazilian politics, civil society and the rule of law. Chayenne, welcome to On Point.

CHAYENNE POLIMÉDIO: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So, first of all, tell me, you know, it’s so it’s interesting to me to really understand what’s fundamental to a culture by knowing what that culture uses in its own language. And I understand in Brazilian Portuguese there are some words that indicate how low trust levels are in Brazilian society. What are those words?

POLIMÉDIO: Yeah, of course. So I think the most well-known expression … is just a clever way of finding shortcuts around the rules. And that can be translated into jerry rigged solutions to getting cable or paying to get your driver’s license if you fail the test too many times.

So these ways of really embedding into the culture, this sense that the system isn’t fair, so it’s not really worth it to play by the rules. And in fact, you’re considered smart, you’re considered resourceful if you’re able to find these ways around the rules. Another really good example is we call somebody a 171. Which means that person is a fraudster. And 171 is actually an article in the penal code in Brazil that identifies people that are scammers. So we will say, This person is a 171 and everybody will know what that means.

CHAKRABARTI: Wow. Okay. And I understand there’s also another phrase about something regarding an animal game.

POLIMÉDIO: … People tend to trust the people who run this game, which is an illegal game, more than they will trust the official lottery that we have in Brazil, for example.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So, again, this is remarkable, right? Because when things become so commonplace that they just enter the language, you know that something significant is going on, or its core to that society. When you were growing up in Sao Paulo, what were the kinds of things that were normal in everyday life that later on, maybe when you moved out of Brazil, you suddenly realized, oh, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way all the time.

POLIMÉDIO: Growing up in Brazil in the nineties, I think there was a lot of optimism. We had just come out of 30 years of military rule. So in general, I think people saw, you know, their economic prospects getting better. And I think that optimism sort of translated into higher levels of trust. I think that in the countryside where a lot of my extended family is from, the levels of trusts were a little bit higher.

But even then, I remember I was nine years old when I started riding the bus by myself in Sao Paulo, and my mom wrote me this manual about, you know, how to be on the bus and how to look out for strangers that, you know, might want to take advantage of me or do something nefarious. She would never let me walk home from the bus stop. She would go and pick me up. So there were these little things of being careful when you’re riding the bus, being careful when you’re just standing, you know, by the bus stop or standing in line.

We tend to wear our purses in front of our bodies, right? So we would never wear your bag or your backpack on your back, never on the bus, never walking down the street. And when I came to the United States, I remember, you know, seeing people walking around the streets with their iPhones out and thinking, that’s crazy. Aren’t you afraid you’re going to get robbed? Because I would never do that in Brazil.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So, you know, levels of trust between family members is obviously still very high in Brazil. But I quoted that number a little bit earlier from the Inter-American Development Bank that they found that 63% of Brazilians said they didn’t trust people in their own community. So beyond family, but in community, what do you make of that number? Does that number make sense to you?

POLIMÉDIO: That number definitely makes sense to me. … I think we have been sort of conditioned to think that a stranger is always looking for ways to take advantage of you. So I think that’s very embedded in the culture, the sort of in-group, outgroup mentality. But I also think over the last two decades we have become much more divided, especially along the lines of religion and ideology.

So people tend to, when you think about your family, your family will very likely share the same religion that you do, and the same ideology as well. And then you start seeing those wider fault lines between the in and outs. And I think over time that translates into, you know, an inability to trust people that think differently than you, that worship differently than you, undergirded by that already cultural sense of a stranger will likely try to take advantage of me, but that number very much resonates with me.

CHAKRABARTI: How is this then sort of radiating into the institutional culture? Because voting is compulsory in Brazil. But what do Brazilians think about, you know, when they go to the ballot box to vote?

POLIMÉDIO: Yeah, voting is compulsory, and people really don’t like that. And part of the reason why people don’t like that is because they don’t really feel that they have legitimate options to choose from. They really think that it doesn’t matter who they vote for because whoever they vote for will be corrupt.

… Usually when you’re voting for somebody in Brazil, you know they’re all going to be corrupt. You’re just looking for the one that’s going to be corrupt, but still going to pave the roads. The one that’s corrupt but is going to get you your cash benefits at the end of the month.

CHAKRABARTI: So you moved to the United States when you were, what, about 20 years old?

POLIMÉDIO: About 20.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Do you see familiar patterns here in the United States that you just described in Brazil?

POLIMÉDIO: Definitely. I think the ideology divide and the religious divide, which in many ways go hand-in-hand here and just like they do in Brazil, I think that has become a really great source of distrust between people. So when you think about, you know, how people choose to interact with each other on social media or what they read, that’s all very much, you know, guided by those preferences.

And it creates this divide between people who, you know, in many ways are very similar. So when you think about Brazil, we … also love Carnival, we love soccer. But most of the things that we have in common have been overshadowed by these differences that lead to mistrust. And I think we see a lot of that here as well, right? When we think about what makes Americans American and there’s so much that they share in common.

But I think that these differences have been heightened and highlighted by all sorts of other factors, have furthered added to those levels of mistrust. And I think if Americans are not careful, they’re going to see very similar numbers to the ones that we have in Brazil.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, well, since you mentioned soccer, I just have to say Brazil’s showing its flair in the World Cup. We’ve just got about 30 seconds before we have to take our first break here, Chayenne. So just, you know, in a phrase or two, how would you say that this lack of trust across the board in Brazil has had an impact on the country?

POLIMÉDIO: I think when you think about the role of trust and people’s belief that, you know, people around them are good and that government works for them when you don’t have that, reform is really hard. It’s really hard for government to do its job. And we’re seeing that, we’re seeing a government that doesn’t work. We’re seeing fragmented society and that really deteriorates our ability to, you know, move forward to really take advantage of all those amazing resources that we have as a country.

CHAKRABARTI: Joining us now is Rafael Ioris. He’s a professor of Latin American history at the University of Denver.

RAFAEL IORIS: Hello. Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So how far back would you say we need to go in Brazilian history to find the sort of original roots of the distrust that’s, you know, growing like a weed in society today?

IORIS: It’s a wonderful question, but hard to answer. I think the experience of being a colony, and I don’t think that’s exclusive to the situation of Brazil. But in Brazil, in a case where that was experienced in a very intense fashion. A colony, you know, when the Portuguese, in the case of Brazil went to the Americas, started to exploit the territory and invade the land and take over land from natives, and then later on start bringing, you know, captives from Africa. That really creates a society that is organized along lines that only benefit a minority of people.

So the colonial logic is one where the ruling local elite is benefiting from much of the wealth or the resources being exploited there, and of course the Metropole countries. So a society shaped on hierarchical, legal but also economic, political, cultural lines is prone to have formal institutions that do not benefit, to not allow mobility or inclusion for the majority of its population. So it’s not surprising that over time people would see that, you know, the formal systems don’t apply to them, don’t work for them, don’t benefit them, and hence, why should they care or trust them?

CHAKRABARTI: And we should note that we’re not talking about an insignificant period of time here. Right. I mean, it’s, what, a 300 plus year portion of Brazilian history that the Portuguese colonized Brazil from, what, 1500 to at least 1800?

IORIS: Yes, around 1500s is sort of the formal year of arrival of French Portuguese colonizers, but they enhanced the occupation of the territory and developed, you know, their presence later and a little slower, actually, than the Spanish colonizers did.

But, yes, kind of over 300 years, and only, what, 200 years now, we just celebrated the 200th anniversary of formally independence and I would say formal political independence, because there’s an entire conversation, of course, in the literature on Latin American history and politics that, you know, what do you need to really call an independent country independent? … So, yes, under colonial rule, which is kind of organized typically along the lines that I briefly suggested before.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m glad you started with this because it just important to realize that, again, I’m just repeating things. But these are tools to help us understand how Brazil got to the place it is now. More time under colonial rule than as a, you know, quote unquote, independent nation. Chayenne, I’m just wondering what you think about that, that we need to look back to Brazil’s colonial history in order to understand modern, low levels of trust.

POLIMÉDIO: Oh, absolutely. I think that when you think about a society that all that we’ve ever known is a system that advantages a few and takes advantage of most. You can see how that plays out in other areas of life to the present day. We can talk about how prevalent nepotism has been in Brazilian society. We can talk about how challenging has been for minorities and the poor to have access to higher education. So it all goes back to that colonial past and it’s really, really hard to shed that cultural root.

CHAKRABARTI: One might think that Brazil’s independence from Portuguese colonialism would be a hopeful inflection point in Brazilian history. Independence from Portugal in 1822, abolishment of slavery in 1888, declared a public in 1889. Would that not be a moment where the Brazilian people would be hopeful for, you know, creating a new country that would work for them?

IORIS: It would be. So, yes. I mean, it’s interesting. The independence of Brazil, kind of a unique case in the Americas, was negotiated with Portugal. There were some battles, but largely the new country of Brazil paid Portugal for its independence, or so they purchased their independence. And that displays and kind of showcases the sort of the moderate tone of the Brazilian independence process. It was also the only country that had an emperor. There was a king in Brazil for much of the 19th century, and slavery continued to be legal, as you just mentioned, only in 1888 to be abolished.

It was abolished, I think, thankfully, peacefully, not with a civil war like in the case of the United States, but still. It was a long process. And actually, there were more slaves being brought into Brazil after its independence. And I just want to mention one thing.

So Brazil was the largest slave society in modern history. … Slavery was a pervasive element of Brazilian society in general. In the cities, most people own a slave, former slaves, could be the case that they themselves would purchase as a way to make money to be able to have an income. So there were pervasive.

So I would say slavery was not just an economic institution, it was a cultural, political, of course, legal, but in many, many ways it helped shape Brazilian society. And then when the emperor or the monarchy ended and slavery ended, so they had a nice constitution mimicked after the U.S. Constitution, by the way.

But it was a system that only worked once again. So the recurrences of kind of the past, the legacies of the past, only work for the very few. If you think about the beginning of the 20th century, only about 5% of Brazilians actually could vote. Elections were even those who could vote.

It was basically a negotiation between ruling elites. It was largely controlled elections. So there was a contrast between what’s on paper and what’s on the ground. So I think that also reinforces this perception that, again, what’s on paper I mean, I agree with what was said before by saying that there’s this idea that all of it’s on paper and it’s the only thing we can trust.

Yes, but what I mention here is in the sense you can have nice laws, but the implementation, so everyone is equal according to the law now because slavery is ended. But the path for mobility, for former slaves, for nonwhite Brazilians, for women.

It was very, very limited and continued to be limited for and it was a very gradual process. Brazil has a very sort of gradual evolution in terms of the extension of rights and an extension of social, economic and racial inclusion, which I would say is still actually unfolding.

CHAKRABARTI: And the nation has suffered. I mean, the sort of ongoing modern political corruption aside, there have been political traumas, right. That have reverberated through Brazil, which then I guess further undermined trust, because tell us the story of hopefully I’m saying his name properly. Getúlio Vargas.

IORIS: Getúlio Vargas was arguably one of the most consequential presidents of in history. He ruled the country for almost two decades. A good chunk of those, almost 20 years, was under dictatorial rule. So it’s a very complex figure for many different reasons, again, eroding and authoritarian way. But he was actually the one who granted very significant new laws that expanded voting rights to women. He granted, I use the word granted … because it was not done in a way where people actually had much of a saying.

So it was granted from above, you know, rights to workers like wages and rights to organizing unions. So a lot of it was sort of provided by the state to enhance the role of the state in society and the economy. But again, that also kind of confirms the idea that now you could actually see a little bit of improvement in the formal sense. And I don’t think that should be minimized. It makes a huge difference if you have a law that allows you to be part of a union or not. But again, in a controlled fashion.

So unions were under control of the state and the wages would be increased only through a negotiation with your employer under the supervision of a state agency. So again, always the inclusion, even when it did occur, it was done in a controlled, top-down fashion. Only recently, I would say, Brazil really experienced what one would call it in a more inclusive democratic system. I would say system actually has been facing a lot of difficulties just recently. But, you know, the last 30 years or so.

CHAKRABARTI: And then correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he take his own life?

IORIS: He did. You did. So he killed himself on 1954. There was an accusation of corruption. He had been already removed from power by the military, and they threatened to do that again. And that’s another important act of Brazil history. The military have played this sort of self-declared, self-appointed intervening role of deciding what are the limits of the intrusion, what are the limits of democracy in Brazil.

And so they threatened to remove him once again. He had been removed in ’45, and he decided that he would not go quietly, that eventually he killed himself again, a very controversial but also consequential defining figure of Brazil, a political but also, of course, economic, cultural history.

CHAKRABARTI: So but can you tell us how that had an impact on the Brazilian people, when Vargas took his own life?

IORIS: He was ruling a little more kind of drawing overtures to workers in the early fifties. He enhanced the role once again of the state in the economy, who was promoting, that’s why they call him a populist. … And so he shot himself. I mean, there’s a trauma of a president who shoots himself with a revolver on his heart. There’s a museum in Rio where you can actually go to the bedroom and see the kind of that image, you know, where he killed himself on the bed.

And so there’s that element, symbolic symbolism of that. He left a very poignant letter saying that he was taking his own life for the sake of the country, and the country should rally behind his cause to defend the national interests. So people took to the streets. People took to the streets, millions of people took to the streets to mourn him and to kind of attack who they saw as representatives of the elites, including in this case, was interesting. They considered to be foreign interests in the United States.

Whatever was called the U.S. in the case of Brazil was called America. And so there were stores that called themselves the America Store, which was not U.S. owned by any means. Just someone like to put the name of a store called America. And they faced the possibility of having stones thrown at them, their windows, shops. And it kind of created this really divisive moment of Brazilian history. But in a way, the opposition that we’re trying to remove him kind of ran the streets and quiet down for a bit and there would gather a new momentum to actually intervene in politics once again.

CHAKRABARti; Okay. So that does bring us to March of 1964, where the coup d’etat by the Brazilian military was launched, I should say, with the support of the United States and President João Goulart, a leftist president of Brazil at the time, who had proposed reforms that many in Washington, I should say, in particular feared would turn Brazil into another communist Cuba.

So on April 1st of 1964, President Lula fled Brazil and the head of the Brazilian Senate, Auro Soares de Moura Andrade, who supported the coup, officially declared the presidency vacant.

Now, the military dictatorship in Brazil lasted for more than 20 years until 1985. 20,000 people were tortured under the dictatorship and more than 400 people disappeared or killed. Chayenne, you had family who lived through this period of Brazilian history. What are the ongoing impact of the military rule of Brazil on Brazilians today?

POLIMÉDIO: Yeah. I mean, it’s very interesting. I will just say that my mom used to tell me these stories of when she was a teenager in Brazil, and she would be with her siblings, and she’d be complaining about the military junta. And my grandma would shush her. She would say, you can’t be speaking out loud because people would get disappeared. So it was very much a time of a lot of fear and a lot of apprehension. What I think has been interesting is ever since we’ve had these major corruption scandals in Brazil … there’s been this sort of renaissance, this nostalgia for the dictatorship, for the military rule in Brazil.

So what we’re seeing today is a very large segment of the population that says, you know, one government can’t govern. We can’t trust government. Government is unable to give us law, to give us order to improve the economy. And actually, things weren’t so bad when the military was in power. So the sort of, you know, amnesia of what happened and this yearning for, you know, more control and more organization that they seem to believe that the military would be able to bring.

CHAKRABARTI: We were discussing Brazilian cultural and political history, and how there’s a long story that’s led to the rampant distrust in Brazilian society and including part of that story being modern corruption, which does seem to be quite deep in Brazil.

For example, it wasn’t all that long ago where Dilma Rousseff was elected president of Brazil in 2010. She was the first woman president in the country’s history. She held office for six years, but then was impeached in 2016. And even before that, the president, prior to her, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was president from 2003 to 2010.

His name will sound familiar to you. But in 2017, in a controversial trial, he was convicted on charges of money laundering and corruption, sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. His appeal failed and he was arrested on April 7th, 2018. And here’s the last speech Lula gave that year before he turned himself into the police.

Lula … spent 580 days in jail. And then in March of 2021, the Supreme Federal Court in Brazil ruled that the judge who oversaw Lula’s corruption trial was biased and his convictions were annulled. And then this year, Lula won back the Brazilian presidency against President Jair Bolsonaro. So his victory marks a return of the left to power.

Chayenne, let me just ask you quickly. You know, you had said earlier that when Brazilians go to vote, they kind of go into the ballot box with the presumption that just about everyone is corrupt. And yet here, Lula has been reelected after serving more than 500 days in prison. What do you make of that?

POLIMÉDIO: It’s Brazilians. Always, always surprising you. I think the main thing here is it’s less about Lula and more about Bolsonaro. I think when you look at the kind of politics that Bolsonaro did and the way that he managed the country through the COVID pandemic and the sort of effects that that had on the population, in addition to a lot of corruption scandals that came out associated with him, associated with his sons, for a candidate that ran on an anti-corruption, anti-establishment platform.

I think that was sort of one of those everybody is corrupt, really. Even the guy that was the poster child for military rule that says, you know, I’m anti Lula, I stand for everything against Lula, even if that guy is corrupt. Then people end up choosing Lula because at least Lula does things for the people.

So I don’t think Brazilians are voting for Lula under any illusion that maybe he was innocent, maybe he didn’t do the things that he was accused of doing. But they are really voting for him because they do think back on those years under his presidency when people were able to, you know, go on vacation. They were able to take planes. They were able to really, you know, have a better standard of living, which is something that they’ve lost under Bolsonaro.

CHAKRABARTI: So I want to refocus the conversation back on what is the really the day to day impact on the lives of Brazilians with all this, you know, with the corruption and the low levels of trust in institutions and low levels of even community trust. So in order to do that, I referenced some studies a little earlier about how trust is low in Brazil. But it’s not just a Brazilian problem.

It’s a problem across Latin America. Because only one in ten Latin Americans and people of the Caribbean say they can trust each other, just one in ten. And that lack of trust has been embedded in the region, as we talked about, for as long as it’s been measured, which is about 40 years.

CARLOS SCARTASCINI: We know that in those regions in which there was colonialism, there was slavery and forced labor or sort of violent conflict. Now, that is a legacy of mistrust. But also we know that the institutions, the culture that evolved from that colonial history has also perpetuated some of the conditions that lead to mistrust, but particularly inequalities in the distribution of foreign assets.

CHAKRABARTI: So that’s Carlos Scartascini. He’s leader of the Behavioral Economics Group of the Inter-American Development Bank. He’s also coauthor of the book Trust: The Key to Social Cohesion and Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean. And it’s groups like the Inter-American Development Bank that have been measuring trust, as I mentioned, for some four decades. And he says the long history of mistrust has hurt the region’s economic growth. In the last 60 years, Latin America and the Caribbean have not been able to close the development gap with the developed, but the developed world.

SCARTASCINI: What we see is that mistrust is a tax on development. So basically when you don’t trust, everything becomes more difficult. So when you don’t trust, they do not grow. And why is that? Because you don’t hire employees.

When you mistrust others, you are not willing to open a new location for your firm because you don’t want to give it to somebody you don’t know, and you don’t trust. So particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, firms remain small and so they are either, you know, single owners or basically they are family-owned firms. You only grow as much as your family grows.

CHAKRABARTI: So if you listen to what Carlos is saying there, it’s not just growth. Lack of trust has a pernicious impact on almost every single aspect of doing business in places in Latin America, like Brazil.

SCARTASCINI: In a very mistrustful society, what you are going to have is that every product is going to have an alarm and there’s going to be a very elaborate security system, and there are going to be security guards. There’s going to be a cashier that you have to go through.

Now you’re using a lot of resources just for checking out the transaction, just for reducing that. The possibility that somebody is going to cheat on you, or they’re going to steal something from you. All of those resources now cannot be used in the productive process. They are being wasted in a way just on controlling or reducing their mistrust.

CHAKRABARTI: And this widespread mistrust doesn’t just affect business, it weakens public institutions, too, which in turn hampers the quality of life for almost everyone.

SCARTASCINI: When there is mistrust, there is no social cohesion. We don’t come together as a society. The set of our common problems. We are not willing to do the little sacrifices that we need for society. To thrive in those conditions, then is very difficult for individuals to demand public goods, for example.

If I don’t trust others, if I don’t trust that others will demand public goods. If I don’t demand that the government will be willing to provide public goods, for example, then what happens is that we retrench from the public sphere. We prefer not to pay our taxes. We prefer to provide private education, private security guards.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, but what’s driving what here is low community trust, driving down trust in government? Or is it the other way around?

SCARTASCINI: You cannot trust others if you don’t trust the government. Why? Because in the end, it is the government, the institution that basically prevents other from taking advantage of you. On the other hand, it’s very difficult for you to trust the government if you don’t trust others. Why? Because it’s only a strong society that can keep the government in check. You know, make sure that the government doesn’t take advantage of you.

CHAKRABARTI: Meaning low community and institutional trust go hand in hand. They negatively reinforce each other, to the harm of many and the benefit of a very few. Which is why Scartascini says if a nation is going to do anything to increase trust levels, it must address the two biggest drivers of mistrust. They are information asymmetry and power asymmetry. Okay, so how do you do that?

Well, Carlos Scartascini says politicians and institutions they control must become more transparent and more equitable. And in communities where institutions work for everyone, and when authorities tell citizens what they’re going to do, and when they do it, trust rises. But so far, Scartascini says not enough countries in Latin America are doing that or doing it very well, and it’s costing them.

SCARTASCINI: The main thing we want for people to take away from study is that … trust is at the center of strong societies, of a strong social cohesion and basically at the center of sustainable and inclusive growth. If we want strong democracies, we need more trust. If we want more growth, we need we need more trust. That’s the key.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Professor Ioris, let me ask you. So, first of all, do you agree or disagree with regard to Scartascini and his call for reducing information and power asymmetry? And if so, what are the first steps to doing that?

IORIS: From a political perspective, democracy is a social contract. Hence, it’s based on social bonds. Meaning it works if we believe in that agreement. In that pact, make it work. But you could go beyond it if you think of the history of modern capitalism, even though the main sort of thinkers, you know, like John Locke, one of the indirect founding fathers of the U.S., even the idea of a government would be to respect contracts.

And when they mean contracts is also not only in sort of the legal contracts, but in the sense that I agree that when I sign a contract of selling or purchasing something that will be respected. So it boils down to actually being a fundamental element, right out of economics, of politics, of society in general.

There’s a whole, you know, in topological reflection on this, in an informal way is what keeps people together. Living together peacefully is trust. So I agree that transparency has to be enhanced. So information, symmetry, that can be done. And I think in many countries it has actually improved Latin America in the last few years.

A new law, U.S. transparency laws and many others accountability agencies … that actually made the corruption more visible in Brazil in which corruption, which has existed, of course, throughout its history, including in the events that was mentioned, I mentioned before, were actually some agencies put in place, ironically by the Labor Workers Party government.

Many of them, not only them. But many of the agencies in laws put in place where accountability and transparency kind of to investigative powers to the federal police, to the public ministry, federal public ministry. So that’s one way. But I also think it goes beyond that.

In a way, we could speak not only of in terms of transparency, but we can say you have to live through the experience of democracy. Democracy can only be improved. Democracy, and I’d say about it loosely, this sense. Trust on each other of the social pact that we want to peacefully live, peacefully as a society. It can only be proved by more democracy, not less. And Brazil has a history of not having experience in many other Latin American countries, you know, for democracy, whatever that means, or more, better democracy.

… You have to give it a chance. Through improvements, through new laws and through participation. I just want to give a little bit of a silver lining. … I would say that I’m sure there are strong bonds not only in family ties and people you can trust, people with whom you have established ties historically. They would go through to church.

… There’s a lot of social mobilization through grassroots, through an extensive network of people from different realms of society who trust each other sufficiently to organize together, to mobilize together, to demand new rights, to expand rights, to actually want to improve democracy from the bottom up. And I think that happens in other countries, too, but in Brazil is certainly the case.

CHAKRABARTI: Let me just jump in here, because that’s a really, really important point. That Brazil’s greatest resource is its people. And in fact, Brazil is such an important country, the world needs Brazil to succeed to its maximum potential as well. So, I mean, we’ve just got a minute or so to go. And I want to give you the last word here today. What would you like to see happen in Brazil to try to build back trust and to allow the country to fully flourish?

POLIMÉDIO: Being in America, we say democracy is an experiment and it’s very much an experiment in Brazil as well. And it’s so young. Brazilian democracy is really young. So I think the care and attention to making institutions more transparent, to making them more accountable, to earning back the public’s trust can be really, really crucial to changing the state of things today.

But I want to end with an example that I think maybe will help us end on a more positive note. We were talking about the World Cup. And Brazil doing really well. It’s very funny. You know, you talk to Brazilians and on the surface, a lot of people will say, yeah, you know, Brazil is not as good as it used to be. We used to play amazing soccer. And we’re not quite as we used to be. But deep down, everybody’s rooting for Brazil. Everybody has a little bit of hope that maybe this year is the year that we’re going to take home, you know, the World Cup.

And I think we feel that way about government. I think we feel that way about each other. I think we are, you know, distrustful. I think we feel that institutions have failed us. But I think there is a lot of hope. Brazilians are very hopeful. So I think if we can successfully tap into that and remind people of, you know, what we have in common and what unites us, I think we have a good chance.

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