Brazil's economic freedom fighters are an example for Americans

8/8/15 12:01 AM

Kim Kataguiri is a 19-year-old college dropout from a working-class family in Santo Andre, Brazil. How then, did he become the face of a movement, millions of people strong, to impeach Brazil's president and bring free markets to Brazil?

In high school, Kataguiri was told by a teacher that Brazil's then-economic boom had been fueled by welfare. He wanted to learn more about how welfare works, so Kataguiri searched the Internet and eventually came across free market literature by Ludwig von Mises.

Using what he learned from Mises, Kataguiri made a YouTube video about welfare in Brazil. "It was only for my colleagues and teacher, but it ended up spreading throughout the Internet, and that's when I started studying about libertarianism and I continued to make my videos," Kataguiri told the Washington Examiner.

There aren't many economies around the world that libertarians would consider free, but Brazil's is particularly restrictive. The country ranks 103rd out of the 152 countries in the Fraser Institute's annual rankings of economic freedom, below Greece, Russia and Thailand.

Economic freedom aside, the Petrobas Scandal has become extra motivation for those seeking to oust Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff. Petrobras is Brazil's state-owned oil company, and members of Rousseff's Workers' Party allegedly accepted bribes from Petrobras while Rousseff was on the company's board of directors.

Rousseff denies wrongdoing, but many Brazilians aren't convinced, and her approval rating is about 8 percent.

In response to the scandal, Kataguiri and Fabio Ostermann, a political science professor in Brazil, founded the Free Brazil Movement in November 2014. "We stand for free markets, we stand for individual freedom, we stand for limited government," Ostermann told theExaminer. The scandal wasn't their only motivation to found the libertarian group, but it was a major factor.

The movement is growing rapidly. In March, FBR gathered 4 million people across the country to protest Rousseff, 1.2 million of whom were in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city. Their goal is to oust Rousseff by the end of the year.

To harvest the anti-Rousseff energy into free market advocacy, FBR makes the case that big government is more vulnerable to corruption. That's why FBR isn't a supporter of the opposition Brazilian party either. Kataguiri and Ostermann say that party's not very ideologically different than Rousseff's Workers' Party.

During a two-week visit to the United States, Kataguiri and Ostermann took the time to meet with me, and I thought it wise to ask about parallels between the U.S. and Brazil.

Ostermann blames the high level of indoctrination in Brazilian universities for the dominance of big government ideas.

Having briefly studied at Georgetown University, he knows leftist ideas dominate American universities as well. "If people here don't take care of what they're doing in the battle of ideas, I think the U.S. might end up going in the same direction," Ostermann said.

The pair also discussed how culture can lead to ideological shifts. "We started with a lot of artists ... helping us make different videos, making different songs," Kataguiri said.

"Some people have more intellectual aspirations, and they're more willing to be convinced by reason," Ostermann said. "But some other people you have to reach them using simpler arguments … you have to use music, you have to use social networks, you have to use memes. We have been doing a lot of work on that."

An emotional appeal often works better than an appeal based solely on logic. "People have hearts and people have emotions," Kataguiri said. "They like to be inspired."

Sometimes it takes more than a solid tax plan or an economic text book to do that.