Jair Bolsonaro, Maria do Rosário, and the Champinha case

Over a decade ago, in November 2003, Liana Friedenbach, 16 years old (a minor in Brazil law), and Felipe Silva Caffé, 19 years old, were camping in an abandoned farm close to São Paulo.

While they were camping, the couple was found by a group led by Roberto Aparecido Alves Cardoso, aka “Champinha”. Initially, Champinha and his group wanted to steal from the couple. Realizing that they had little to no money, they changed their minds and decided to kidnap Liana and Felipe.

In the first day of captivity, one member of the gang raped Liana. Felipe was killed on the next day with a shot in the back of his head. Liana heard the shot, but the group lied to her saying that her boyfriend was set free. Liana was then raped by other members of the group led by Champinha.

The group never contacted the families asking for a ransom. On the third day, Liana’s family, worried about the lack of contact, called the police, which found the place where the couple was camping, with some of their belongings. Noticing that the police was closing in, Champinha killed Liana with knife strokes.

Champinha, the leader of the group who kidnapped, raped, and murdered Liana, was underage when the crimes happened, and because of that could not be sent to prison. Instead, he was interned in a correction institution.

The crime shocked Brazil. It was answering this crime that Jair Bolsonaro, at the time a congressman, was clamoring for a change in Brazilian law, allowing criminals like Champinha to be prosecuted. Maria do Rosário, a congresswoman from PT, the party of former president and today prisoner Lula da Silva, was opposing Bolsonaro. During their debate, Maria do Rosário called Bolsonaro a raper. Bolsonaro answered “I am a raper? Look, I would not rape you because you don’t deserve it”. Later Bolsonaro explained that he intended to insult Maria do Rosário by saying “even if I was a raper, as you say, I would not rape you because you are too abominable, even for that”.

So that’s it. I hope this helps non-Portuguese speakers who can read English to understand a polemic phrase attributed to Bolsonaro. And I also hope that Brazilian law is changed someday so that justice can be made and criminals like Champinha and his gang get the death penalty for their crimes.

A Brazilian view on the French Protests

Paris has been taken by a great number of protesters complaining about (yet another) tax, this time on fuel and with the justification of “combating climate change”.

Five years ago, in 2013, several cities in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro among them) were taken by protesters. They were initially complaining about a rise in the bus tariffs. A small rise, if examined by itself, but apparently the last drop among a number of reasons to be discontent.

The Brazilian protests of 2013 were very ironic. Lula da Silva, a socialist, was elected president in 2002. He was reelected four years later, despite major indications that he was involved in corruption scandals. Lula left office very popular, actually, so popular that he was able to make a successor, Dilma Rousseff, elected president in 2012. It was during Dilma’s presidency that the protests took place. They were initially led by far-left groups who demanded free public transportation. So here is the irony: a far-left group, with a far-left demand (free public transportation), was protesting against a (not so far) left government. The situation became even more ironic because millions of Brazilians, who didn’t identify as socialists, also went to the protests, not because they wanted free public transportation (most people are intelligent enough to understand, even if instinctively, that such a thing cannot exist), but because they were fed up with the socialists government at one point or another.

The lesson is: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” The 2013 protests culminated this year, with Bolsonaro’s election. Mises observed very acutely that socialism simply cannot work. What he observed on paper, reality has confirmed again and again. France is just the latest example.

The real threat to democracy in Brazil

Earlier this week, Ricardo Lewandowski, a judge in Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court, was in a commercial flight. The passenger sitting next to him turned to the judge and said: “I am ashamed of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court”. Lewandowski’s reaction was to threaten the passenger with jail. He turned to him and said, “tell me, do you want to go to jail?”  The passenger was indeed stopped by the police at the destination, but released right after. The video of the exchange is easily found on Youtube.

Lewandowski came to the Supreme Court appointed by former president Lula da Silva, today serving time in jail for corruption and still indicted for several crimes. He has been criticized several times for favoring Lula and his party.

I wonder if the press, that complains so much about Jair Bolsonaro being a threat to democracy in Brazil, will have the same treatment for Lewandowski. When you cannot criticize in public a public server or a public institution without being stopped by the police, democracy is no longer in place.

Since the 19th-century Brazilian judges and magistrates believe they are above the law. It is just a sad fact in Brazilian history. The challenge for Brazil is to show people like Lewandowski that they are just humans, open to criticism, like everybody else.

Joakim Book: Winner of the 2018 Money Metals Exchange & Sound Money Defense League essay contest

Just to keep readers up to date, Joakim just won a scholarship for an essay on sound money and banking. Here is the link to the essay. Here is the link to the announcement. It reads as follows:

For the third straight year, Money Metals Exchange, a national precious metals dealer recently ranked “Best in the USA,” has teamed up with the Sound Money Defense League to offer the first gold-backed scholarship of the modern era. These groups have set aside 100 ounces of physical gold to reward outstanding students who display a thorough understanding of the economics, monetary policy, and sound money.

A gold-backed scholarship?! Freakin’ awesome. Here is Joakim’s latest post at NOL, which was highlighted at the Financial Times‘ “Alphaville” blog (the FT is like the Wall Street Journal for countries that were once part of the British Empire).

One of the things I liked most about Joakim’s latest blog was the fact that he incorporated a post by another Notewriter into his thoughts (in this case Rick’s musings on Mariana Mazzucato and counterfactuals). The folks at “Alphaville” have been good to us over the years, too. They’ve linked, since 2017, to thoughts from Shree, Federico, Vincent (twice!), Mark, and Tridivesh as well as Joakim.

Joakim’s well-deserved award stacks up quite nicely with Lucas’ 2018 Novak Award from the Acton Institute and Nick’s winning entry for the Mont Pelerin Society’s 2018 Hayek essay competition. All in all, it’s been a good year for the Notewriters.

Populism versus Constitutional Democracy

What is the difference between a conservative and a reactionary? A conservative knows when she has lost.

A conservative respects the status quo for the sake of stability. The reactionary rebels against it. Unfortunately, it is the reactionary impulse within Brexit that now threatens to hem in the liberties of British citizens, and threaten the rights of foreign residents, for a long time to come. A looser but productive relationship that Britain could have had with the European Union was lost, first at Maastricht in 1992, then again at Lisbon in 2007. A conservative recognizes this loss and adapts her politics to the new landscape. The reactionary tries to reconstruct those lost pasts in vain as the chaotic debates in Britain and the increasingly disappointing outcome illustrates.

Does this mean that referendums are bad? Do they only embolden radicals and reactionaries? It depends. If referendums are used to rubberstamp the decisions of a party in power, or as a way of deferring political judgement, then they are useless at best, dangerous at worst. By contrast, if they are part of the fabric of a democracy, and act as a real veto on constitutional change, rather than a populist rallying point, then they can be enormously valuable. They act as an additional check on the political establishment that might be irrationally fixated on some new governance structure. It ensures that every major change carries with it some level of majority support.

Ten years ago, I wrote a monograph Total Recall: How direct democracy can improve Britain. I advocated supplementing representative democracy with a norm or statutory requirement for referendums on constitutional issues and new local initiative powers. I focused on direct democracy in US states that mean that US state elections often involve both voting for representatives and on propositions. Referendums are required for state constitutional changes. In some states, citizens can initiate new legislation through propositions.

There are parallel constitutional requirements in force in parts of Europe, particularly in Switzerland, Norway and Ireland. It is hardly a coincidence that direct democratic mechanisms have slowed down European integration wherever they have had statutory rather than merely advisory force. Ireland had to go to the polls several times to get the ‘right’ answer but at least this meant that a majority of Irish eventually accepted the new EU arrangements. By contrast, Switzerland and Norway, against the wishes of their political establishments, took European integration only so far before settling with generous trade relations and much more limited political integration. The cost-benefit calculus of their arrangements are up for debate, but fewwould deny their legitimacy. Britain’s future position, by contrast, may turn out to look much worse and all because its people never had the chance to say ‘no’ until long after the facts on the ground changed.

It’s the ability to say ‘no’ that’s important, with the implication that the status quo must still be a viable option. A people cannot be legislators. Mass votes can’t add up to complex judgements to inform actionable law. Hence the Brexit referendum for leaving the EU for an unknown alternative was bound to lead to chaos which, in the long run, may undermine the legitimacy of representative government, let alone popular democracy, rather than strengthen it. There is no status quo ante to return to.

At the time I was writing Total Recall, the spirits of referendums never voted on haunted British politics. Referendums were promised on adopting the Euro and the European Constitution. Both were abandoned when the Government realized they would almost certainly lose. So we stayed out of the Euro but signed what became the Lisbon Treaty. This turned out to be a deadly combination that eventually led to Brexit. The Euro is quite badly managed as an economic scheme. As a political mechanism, however, it binds members of the Euro much closer together. Leaving the European Union, as Britain is doing, is perilous and costly. Leaving the Eurozone would be even more difficult as it would involve establishing a new currency from scratch. If New Labour had been serious about putting Britain in a federal united states of Europe, it should have gone all in with the Euro from the beginning.

So Brexit could have been avoided but not by ignoring majority sentiments. If British referendums were constitutionally mandated rather than the random outcome of internal (in this case, Conservative) party politics; if referendums were required to change the status quo rather than a mechanism for a belligerent minority to relitigate past losses, then, like Switzerland and Norway, we would be in a much better position now.

Will our political leaders learn this lesson for the future? That I doubt.

More Longform essays

Barry’s essays on republican libertarianism (not what you think, American readers!) and British sovereignty and isolationism are up in the new ‘Longform Essays‘ section of the blog. You’ll see that there are more in the works, too, including essays by Zak, Rick, and at least one more from Barry.

These essays join Jacques’ work on legal immigration into the United States and protectionism/free trade, as well as Mary’s essay on education and its relationship with The State.

Editing these essays makes me the luckiest dude in all of libertarian-dom! I hope there are many more in the years to come.

I still pay attention to the news cycle, but it’s so outrageous these days that it’s hard to write about, let alone analyse or interpret. What a mess. I will say that corporate media is definitely skewed to the left.

Libertarians – and economists – haven’t done a good job of explaining the benefits of free trade. Telling the man on the street that free trade is a fundamental truth has not worked. “Democracy” is another major issue; people throw the word around like a baseball, but its fundamentals are rarely discussed. Given that we’ve gone to war over democracy, on numerous occasions, I think it needs to be discussed far more often.

At any rate, enjoy the essays!