Explaining Jair Bolsonaro to non-Brazilians

I wrote about Jair Bolsonaro here some time ago, but I believe that, with the recent political changes in Brazil, it is worthy to write about him again.

Jair Messias Bolsonaro is a pre-candidate to the Brazilian presidency. Elections will happen in October, and so, following Brazilian electoral law, his candidacy won’t be official until later this year. However, it is already very public that he is going to run for president of the country.

Bolsonaro has been a congressman from Rio de Janeiro state since the 1990s, but he only achieved national notoriety fairly recently, during the last decade of government by the Worker’s Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT, in Portuguese). A former captain of the Brazilian army, he entered politics mainly to defend the interests of his colleagues. As with much of South America at some point between the 1960s and 1980s, Brazil was ruled by the military from 1964 to 1985. Since those governments, there is a tendency of loss of prestige of the armed forces in the country. Bolsonaro defended simply better pay and better work conditions for his fellow soldiers.

In the 1990s he opposed several policies of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) government. FHC was responsible for bringing Brazil closer to the Washington Consensus, modernizing the Brazilian economy in many ways. Bolsonaro, however, believed that FHC was selling Brazil to foreigners. Ironically, in that opinion, he was in the company of the Worker’s Party. When the Worker’s Party came to power in 2003, Bolsonaro remained in silence for quite a while. His public opposition to the Lula and Dilma governments began only when the Ministry of Education tried to send to public schools material concerning gender ideology. Bolsonaro and others saw in that an infringement of the separation between the responsibilities of church, government, and state.

Because of his opposition to gender ideology in public schools, Bolsonaro is constantly unjustly accused of misogyny and homophobia, something silly to say the least. Bolsonaro is not a hater of women and homosexuals, at least not more than the majority of the Brazilians. The only thing one can say about him is that, as with many Brazilians, he is very crude with his language. One anecdote might help to explain. When Bolsonaro was already father to four sons, he had his first daughter. Joking, he told his friends that “he’d got weaker.” To many in the Brazilian leftist press, this means that Bolsonaro thinks that women are lesser than men. The same press, however, is not as judicial with the language of other politicians, including former president Lula da Silva, who commonly makes much worse statements. Bolsonaro’s every statement has been scrutinized by people on the left searching for something to blame.

The truth is that apparently unknowingly, Bolsonaro was one of the first Brazilian politicians to consistently fight against Gramscianism. I explain. As I was saying before, from 1964 to 1985 Brazil was ruled by the military. This happened because since the 1920s Brazil was a target of influence by the USSR. Luís Carlos Prestes, one of the most important historical leaders of the Brazilian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Brasileiro, PCB, in Portuguese), trained in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. All leftist parties in Brazil today (including the Worker’s Party) have some historical connection to the PCB. The Soviets (and Chinese, and Cubans) intensified their pressure on Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s. The result was that the vast majority of Brazilian society urged the militaries to take power in 1964.

The armed forces were great in fighting the conventional war against the communists, defeating several guerrillas in the Brazilian interior. But they were simply awful in fighting the cultural war. Early on, many on the Brazilian left noticed that they shouldn’t fight the government in a conventional Marxist-Leninist style, trying to come to power by force. Instead, they should follow Italian socialist leader Antonio Gramsci, and get to power winning hearts and minds first. And so they did. While the soldiers were busy fighting guerrillas, communist occupied schools, universities, the press, and even churches (mainly the Roman Catholic) by the Liberation Theology.

Thanks to Gramsci and his followers, when the military regime was over, Brazilian culture was majorly leaning to the left. The Worker’s Party, publicly socialist, came to power not by force, but by votes. However, Marxism as an economic agenda died a long ago. Lula and Dilma know perfectly well that classical liberalism is the way to go in economics. The aim of the Worker’s Party and associated political groups – most of whom are economically illiterate – is to transform culture. In post-marxism, the “oppressed” are no longer the factory workers, but women, homosexuals, blacks and however fits their agenda for power. We have to sympathize with some of the leftist agenda in Brazil. Historically, thanks to the false capitalism practiced there, Brazil was not a good place for minorities. The individual was never privileged in Brazil. However, the leftist solution (socialism) only makes things worse. Many countries in Latin America, starting with Cuba and Venezuela, can testify to that.

Back to Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro came to the opposition of the Worker’s Party because of the falsely progressive agenda the ruling party was trying to implement. However, since then, Bolsonaro is becoming more and more convinced of the entirety of the liberal-conservative agenda, including its economics. By liberal-conservative I mean the tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, the Founding Fathers, Edmund Burke, Von Mises and others. Bolsonaro was intelligent and honest enough to cry that “the king is naked.” The Brazilian left doesn’t care about minorities. If they did, they would be conservative or libertarian. Classical liberal ideas have a proven record of helping the poor and the oppressed. Socialism continues to hurt everybody but the very few in power.

The leftist media covering Brazil is frightened and trying everything possible to denigrate Bolsonaro. However, so far their strategy is backfiring. Bolsonaro’s popularity in Brazil grows with every attack. On the internet, his followers call him “Mito” (Myth, in Portuguese). In every city that he visits he is followed by a large crowd of fans. In that sense, he is very much a Brazilian Donald Trump. The left insisted so much on talking about minorities that now the large minority that doesn’t fit into leftist stereotypes found his candidate.

Brazil has severe problems and one solution: rule of law. Bolsonaro seems to be not a populist, but someone who understands that society and economy need order to thrive. And it is becoming very apparent that, to the despair of the left, he might be the next Brazilian president.

Do risk preferences account for 1.4 percentage points of the gender pay gap?

A few days ago, this study of gender pay differences for Uber drivers came out. The key finding, that women earned 7% less than men, was stunning because Uber uses a gender-blind algorithm. The figure below was the most interesting one from the study as it summarized the differences in pay quite well.


To explain this, the authors highlight a few explanations borne out by the data: men drive faster allowing them to have more clients; men have spent more time working for Uber and have more experience that may be unobserved; choices of where and when to drive matters. It is this latter point that I find fascinating because it speaks to an issue that I keep underlining regarding pay gaps when I teach.

For reasons that may be sociological or biological (I am agnostic on that), men tend to occupy jobs that have high rates of occupational mortality (see notably this British study on the topic) in the forms of accidents (think construction, firemen) or diseases (think miners and trashmen). They also tend to take the jobs in further removed areas in order to gain access to a distance premium (which is a form of risk in the sense that it affects  family life etc.). The premiums to taking risky jobs are well documented (see notably the work of Kip Viscusi who measured the wage premium accruing to workers who were employed in bars where smoking was permitted). If these premiums are non-negligible but tend to be preferred by men (who are willing to incur the risk to be injured or fall sick), then risk preferences matter to the gender wage gap.

However, there are hard to properly measure in order to assess the share of the wage gap truly explained by discrimination. Here with the case of Uber, we can get an idea of the amplitude of the differences. Male Uber drivers prefer riskier hours (more risks of having an inebriated and potentially aggressive client), riskier places (high traffic with more risks of accidents) and riskier behavior (driving faster to get more clients per hour).  The return to taking these risks is greater earnings. According to the study, 20% of the gap stems from this series of choices or roughly 1.4 percentage points.

I think that this is significantly large to warrant further consideration in the future in the debate. More often than not, the emphasis is on education, experience, marital status, and industry codes (NAICS code) to explain wage differences. The use of industry codes has never convinced me. There is wide variance within industries regarding work accidents and diseases. The NAICS codes industries by wide sectors and then by sub-sectors of activities (see for example the six-digits codes to agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting here). This does not allow to take account of the risks associated with a job. There are a few study that try to account for this problem, but there are … well … few in numbers. And rarely are they considered in public discussions.

Here, the Uber case shows the necessity to bring back this subtopic in order to properly explain the wage gap.

Lunchtime Links

  1. Interview with a secessionist
  2. Ducking questions about capitalism
  3. The perverse seductiveness of Fernando Pessoa
  4. Yet in this simple task, a doffer in the USA doffed 6 times as much per hour as an adult Indian doffer.”
  5. Conflicted thoughts on women in medicine
  6. The Devil You Know vs The Market For Lemons (car problems)

Is persecution the purpose?


Last week, Rebecca Tuvel, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy, had her recent article in Hypatia, ‘In Defence of Transracialism’, denounced in an open letter signed by several professional scholars (among others). They accused her of harming the transgender community by comparing them with the currently more marginalized identity of transracialism. William Rein, on this blog, and Jason Brennan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, have written valuable defences of Tuvel’s right to conduct academic research in this area even if some find it offensive.

Events have moved fast. The associate editors initially seemed to cave in to pressure and denounced the article they had only just published. The main editor, Sally Scholz, has since disagreed with the associate editors. Critically, Tuvel’s colleagues at Rhodes College have given her their support so it looks like the line for academic freedom might be holding in this case. Without wishing to engage too much in the hermeneutics of suspicion, I think there are grounds to doubt the depth of the critics’ attitudes. I base this on my reading of Judith Butler, who is one of the signatories to the open letter arguing for Tuvel’s article to be retracted.

Seven years ago, I managed to read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. Although there are many variations in the movement, Butler is a central figure in the post-structuralist , non-gender-essentialist, feminism that inspires much of the contemporary ‘social justice’ movement. When I got past Butler’s famously difficult prose, I found a great deal of ideas I agreed with. I wrote up a brief piece comparing Butler’s concerns with violently enforced gender conformity to classical liberal approaches to personal autonomy. I also identified some problems.

First, Butler’s critique of the natural sciences seems to completely miss the mark. Butler associates gender essentialism with the study of genetics, when, in fact, genetics has done more than almost anything else to explore the contingency and variation of biological sexual expression in nature. The same applies to race and ethnicity.

Second, more importantly, Butler insists that there is no underlying authentic gender or sexual identity. All identities are ultimately constituted by power relations and juridical discourses. You find this argument repeated among social justice proponents who insist all forms of identity are products of ‘social construction’ rather than ever being based on natural facts. As a result, all personal identity claims are only ever historical and strategic. They are attempts to disrupt power relations in order to liberate and empower the subaltern and oppressed albeit temporarily

I don’t think this is perfectly factually true but lets accept it for now as roughly true. This means that transracialism itself might become, or could already be, another example of the strategic disruption of contemporary juridical discourses, this time about race and ethnicity. The same people currently denouncing Tuvel could very easily insist on the acknowledgement of transracial identity in five or ten years time, and denounce those who hold their current views. From their own position, which explicitly rejects any ultimate restrictions on identity formation, we have no warrant to know otherwise.

In this sense, Tuvel might not be ‘wrong’ at all, just slightly ahead of the social justice curve. And her critics wouldn’t actually be changing their minds, just changing their strategies. Meanwhile, people who actually take their identities seriously should be wary of their academic ‘allies’. They can quickly re-orientate their attitude such that a previously oppressed identity comes to be re-configured as an oppressive and exclusionary construct.

If all claims in this area are strategic, rather than factual, as Butler claims, then why try to damage a philosopher’s career over it? Why provoke an academic journal almost to self-destruct? Rather than working out which ideas to denounce, we should critique the strategy of denouncement (or calling out) itself. In that vein, much as I disagree wholly with the stance of its editorial board, I think calling into question Hypatia’s status as an academic journal, is premature.

Race as a bundle and its implications

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been given the topic of race increased thought recently.

One of the recent developments in political science has been thinking of race not as a dichotomous variable, but as a bundle of related but distinct characteristics. Race is not simply phenotype, but a mixture of such things as one’s dialect, diet, and socioeconomic status among other things.


The idea to me seems obvious, which makes me inclined to believe it. The thing is, if we take this broader approach to what race is, what are the implications for prior work not only in regards to race but the effect of demographic characteristics generally.

Race is already difficult to conduct research in because it is assigned at birth which makes it difficult to manipulate and which influences other characteristics we would ordinarily ‘control’ for in statistical analysis. To my knowledge there isn’t a ‘race ray’ that we can use to randomly assign being ‘black’ in an experiment. Tracing causality is possible, but difficult enough even in ideal situations.

Take for example the gender wage gap argument. When you control for education, presence of children, and other characteristics the gap in wages between males and females vanishes. However many of these characteristics are impacted by one’s gender. While females are not discriminated against ceteris paribus, being female does increase one’s likelihood of having to be the primary care taker for children and has historically decreased educational outcomes. In this broader sense there is a gender wage gap.

What can be done about it though? Men can try to share more of the house duties with their wives, but my general observation in life has been that children prefer being cared for by their mothers over their fathers. Should we try to do something about it? Are there advantages to one member of the household specializing in housework?

Or, if you prefer to think of the question purely in regards to race let us consider crime rates by race. I am not convinced that blacks have any higher propensity to crime than whites. However blacks are more likely to grow up in poverty and have lower educational outcomes than other races, which in turn leads to higher crime rates statistically speaking. Where should the arrow of causality be pointed towards: race, education, socioeconomic status?

Race is a difficult concept to think about. However it is precisely the difficulty with discussing it which begs that it be thought about more. I believe we liberals have a particular duty to think about race more because if we don’t then our ideological rivals will continue to dominate the conversation.

See here for an un-gated draft of the relevant paper: Sen, Maya, and Omar Wasow. “Race as a Bundle of Sticks: Designs that Estimate Effects of Seemingly Immutable Characteristics.” Annual Review of Political Science 19 (2016): 499-522.