The New Brazil: Philosophical Divisions Should Not Hinder Bolsonaro’s Free Society Agenda

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 19/2/19 en:


Brazil may soon become the fastest-growing of the major Western economies. This is not the first time that investors have looked to this South American giant with hopefulness. There is a temptation to think that Brazil is entering into a new phase not seen anywhere in the world since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the 1980s. The road ahead, however, will be difficult. Jair Bolsonaro’s government will face attacks from the outside and the inside.

Bolsonaro’s team includes policy experts and public officials who will aim to liberate the economic potential of the largest economy south of the U.S. border. Brazil’s GDP is equivalent to that of Mexico, Argentina and Chile combined; the economy of the city of São Paulo alone is larger than that of Chile. What happens in Brazil impacts the Americas, and so it requires close observation.

I had the privilege of previous collaborations with think tanks associated with the talented individuals who are now ministers of Economics, Education and the Environment. In other areas, such as Foreign Affairs (Ernesto Araujo) and Justice (Sergio Moro), the Brazilians have leaders with outstanding knowledge and experience. Sergio Moro earned world acclaim for his role in Brazilian transparency efforts. Araujo will shock the world both with his philosophical knowledge and his politically incorrect views and endorsement of many of the Trump administration’s policies.

Winston Ling and Jair Bolsonaro

President Jair Bolsonaro holding copies of «The Law» by Bastiat, and «Six Lessons of Economics» by Ludwig von Mises.  Ling was one of the first free-market businessmen that collaborated with Bolsonaro and his familyWINSTON LING

How did the stars align to produce such a change in the country responsible for the 21st-century socialism of the São Paulo forum? After decades of interventionist and left-wing populism, and with most media, universities and the world “establishment” against him, how did Bolsonaro and his allies do it? To understand and forecast historical changes I use a simple model that focuses on ideas, incentives, leadership and providence or luck. All played a role, but in this case leadership was a driving force.

I will start with Jair Bolsonaro, who, despite coming from the military, listened to business and policy leaders who have been working fearlessly and unceasingly to promote a free society and a free economy. Many deserve credit but I will just mention three of them: Winston Ling, Helio Beltrão and Salim Mattar.

A couple of years ago, Winston Ling told me, in confidence, that he saw potential in Bolsonaro and that he was introducing him to outstanding economists of the Chicago tradition. Ling is the oldest of three Brazilian-born brothers who, with different talents (their father sent them to three different schools), have been helping to build Brazil. Winston is a strategist and can be defined as a “Jesuit-trained follower of Ayn Rand.” In addition to business, he always had a keen eye for investments in intellectual entrepreneurs and activists.

Ling was involved in the free-market movement in Brazil in the 1980s but grew disillusioned and reached the conclusion that the biggest enemies of freedom were big business owners and executives. In the early ‘90s he came to the United States to build a factory. A decade later, he moved to Shanghai, which disconnected him from the freedom movement in Brazil.

But in 2016, when China began to become to tighten its grip on intellectual debates and the Brazilian left was being challenged, Ling saw an opportunity and returned to Brazil. He told me that his early support for Bolsonaro was “against the majority of my free-market friends. I suffered huge amounts of criticism, even from my family.” In the past, Bolsonaro had made comments that angered many. But Ling looked forward rather than backwards: “In order to fight the common enemy, I worked hard to maintain unity between the different factions: conservative Christians, anarcho-capitalists, classical liberals, objectivists [disciples of Ayn Rand], etc.” While other Randians (Rand’s philosophy belittles religion) rend their garments and avoid any alliance with Christians, Ling knew that Chicago economics, or Randian philosophy, was not enough to achieve victory. He understood that other voices and incentives were needed.

Another businessman and leading intellectual entrepreneur is Helio Beltrão, the founder and president of the Instituto Mises, Brazil. Helio is a “big tent” libertarian, open to conservatives, Christians and traditionalists. Ludwig von Mises is his principal inspiration in issues of economic theory, but Helio’s strategy is very much Hayekian. F.A. Hayek, who did three lecture tours in Brazil, stressed the importance of building alliances between defenders of free markets and defenders of tradition and religion. Beltrão has prepared a de-bureaucratization plan and remains very close to several government officials. He decided not to join the administration in order to continue working to preserve the ideological currents that are inspiring many in the current Brazilian leadership.

Helio Beltrão of Instituto Mises and

Through his think tank, Instituto Mises Helio Beltrão has been a driving force of free-market efforts. His publishing house LVM had record sales just before and after Jair Bolsonaro’s victoryHELIO BELTRÃO

The task of reducing bureaucracy and state-owned companies will fall to a businessman with a long track record of listening to the advice of free-market think tanks and intellectual entrepreneurs: Salim Mattar. He built a successful car rental company and, unlike Ling and Beltrão, joined the government as Secretary of Privatization (desestatizacão). He aims to sell $20 billion in state-owned assets during his first year. He will keep just a handful of companies, including Petrobras, in state hands.

It is because of businessmen like the above that many free-market advocates are part of the administration. For instance, Chicago -trained economist Paulo Guedes is Minister of Economics, and former think-tankers such as Ricardo Salles (Minister of the Environment) and Paulo Uebel (former president of Instituto Millenium, and now on Guedes’s team) have significant posts in the government. Brazil is a country that has green all over, even on its flag, and Salles’s vision is very much like the one that exists in the current White House: secure private property and prosperity can go hand-in-hand with a better environment. Progress, however, should not be sacrificed at the green altars of global environmental bureaucracies.

Winston Ling has worked hard to bring different factions of the free market movement into the Bolsonaro coalition

Winston Ling had been working quietly to bring outstanding economists closer to Jair Bolsonaro, here Ling with Paulo Guedes (Economy) and Salim Mattar (Privatization)PHOTO MONTAGE BY ALEJANDRO CHAFUEN WITH WINSTON LING PHOTOS

Few things are more important than quality education, especially in countries that need to liberate the creative potential of the poor. The brilliant choice of Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez as Minister of Education may have enormous positive implications. Vélez, well known in free-society circles, was born in Colombia but earned academic degrees in Brazil and established his career there. A prolific author, Vélez has been influenced by philosopher and historian Antonio Paim (1927- ). Paim started as a Communist Party member and was educated in Moscow. Now in his 90s, Paim is a guiding light of Brazilian classical liberalism. Vélez is also well known abroad: he is on the editorial board of Portuguese magazine Nova Cidadania and has participated in numerous symposiums conducted by the Liberty Fund, the Indianapolis-based foundation that has helped educate and connect countless freedom scholars.

Describing some of the new champions of the free economy in the legislature, like Marcel Van Hattem, only 33, and Kim Kataguiri, who recently celebrated his 23rd birthday, deserves another article. They received huge support from voters and can both be described as conservative in values and free-market in economics. Only a small fraction of the legislature are direct supporters of Bolsonaro, so those who support free-markets founded a multi-party “Free Market Caucus.” They will sponsor and promote bills advocating fewer state interventions as well as de-bureaucratization. In the economic arena, few things are more needed than reform of Brazil’s Social Security pension system. As a recent hike in milk tariffs shows, the road to success will not be without its bumps and contradictions.

I have mentioned businessmen, economists and young politicians. On another occasion I will delve into other players such as the military Evangelicals and conservative Catholics. They played and continue to play an important role. In the world of ideas, apart from Antonio Paim, I have highlighted the inspiration of the Chicago and Austrian schools, and that of Ayn Rand, as providing the vision for a new era of Brazilian capitalism. I have yet to mention influential Brazilian political philosopher Olavo de Carvalho.

I began following Carvalho’s writings at the beginning of this century, when he started Midia Sem Mascara, a website publication which is now dormant. The clarity of his encyclopedic thought, direct style and communication talent has led thousands to his views. His following in social media beats all Brazilian free-market think tanks. Carvalho has 732,000 followers on Instagram and more than 500,000 followers and subscribers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Not bad for a philosopher writing from self-imposed exile in Virginia. With more than two decades influencing young Brazilians, he has a loose but influential network that would take considerable time to describe. For starters, in addition to foreign minister Araujo, others who follow his writings include Eduardo Bolsonaro (son of the president), Filipe G. Martins (international secretary of the president), and Silvio Grimaldo, working for Vélez in education.

It is important to have policy leaders well versed in different political and economic philosophies. But to preserve the coalition that brought Jair Bolsonaro to power, and increase its chances of success, it is better that no one group gain a monopoly. The stars that aligned for Bolsonaro’s victory – the philosophers, economists and strategists – should continue competing and collaborating as they are. They should not revolve around a single “sun,” or thinker, but around the goal of a Brazil under ordered liberty.


Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.