Freedom in Brazil

I spent last week in Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to speak at a series of events. I was invited by Anthony Ling, winner of the “Personality” award in last year’s design contest, and had a fabulous time. The week began with a long sequence of flights to Sao Paulo, where I met my dad David Friedman, also a presenter, and we flew together to Porto Alegre, one of the southernmost cities in Brazil, and the center of Brazilian libertarianism (which turns out to be no small thing!).

On Saturday arrival we were met by Anthony & his brother Albert, whom I had first met at FreedomFest last year, and who served as our gracious hosts and drivers during our stay. After checking in we went for a walk, and in a few short blocks we crossed paths with the Auburn Mises Institute crew. “Wow!”, I exclaimed, “What a great city is Porto Alegre, I go out for a walk and in 5 minutes I run into Lew Rockwell on the street! Why, there must be libertarians everywhere here!”. After dinner and my first (but not last) caipirinha, we headed to the 26th floor for the opening cocktail reception of this first-ever seminar for Mises Brazil, which quickly filled up with well-dressed Brazilian libertarians. I chatted with Lew Rockwell and Mark Thornton about technological solutions to government, private digital currencies, and similar fascinating topics.

The next day, Sunday, the Seminar began, and I had the pleasure of seeing 200+ people drawn by the name “Mises” to this event, many of whom were passionate, principled, enthusiastic libertarians, minarchists, and anarchists. I applaud energetic & optimistic Mises Brazil President Hélio Beltrão for coalescing the libertarian spirit of Brazil so effectively. I did an interview, and otherwise was free to attend the lectures, while polishing my own presentation, which I delivered at 5pm. It was very well received, and I got some well-thought out questions, the best of which (like those from Rodrigo Constantino and Giovanni Nervo) earned TSI rubber duckies as prizes. Later, my dad gave an introductory talk on anarcho-capitalism, giving a short version of the arguments in Anarchy and Efficient Law, which was also very interesting and well-received, I’ll post a video in a few weeks. The Seminar, by the way, featured real-time Portuguese<->English translation using radio headsets, which worked amazingly well.

Monday featured another half day of Mises Brazil, and then the opening lunch of the Forum da Liberdade, a much larger, higher-profile, but less radical event run by the Instituto De Estudos Empresariais (IEE). 5500 people came to see the exhibitions and panels, making this event substantially larger than our FreedomFest in the US! Hélio was awarded the Forum’s Libertas award, and gave [a great acceptance speech], closing with:

I would like to point out that it is not necessary to change the world or to create a nation of sovereign individuals. What matters – and what one can do right now – is to live as a sovereign individual, staying close to those who respect you as such, and avoiding the manipulators and those who desire to live as parasites on your energy, talents, and virtues. Therefore, we may achieve freedom to a large extent during our lifetimes, independently of any eventual failure to end the serfdom perpetrated by the state. If you behave as a sovereign individual in your personal relationships, you will be contributing to your happiness and also to the transmission of the concept of individual sovereignty. That chain of good, I am certain, will abolish the chains of evil.

The highlight of the event for me came on Tuesday, when my dad appeared in a panel on government intervention in the economy, along with a representative of CADE, the state antitrust organization. My dad explained the public choice theory of regulatory capture and the dominance of concentrated interests over dispersed ones, along with a case history of transportation regulation in the United States and how it was used to suppress competition while claiming the opposite. As the climax of his argument that regulators act very differently than they say, he pointed out that Brazil has a monopoly which charges the poor, and earns 35x the private sector profit margin – the National Lottery, which returns 30 cents on the dollar, whereas slot machines in Vegas return 98 cents on the dollar – so 70% vs. 2% profit margins. Therefore if CADE truly exists to break up harmful monopolies, it will surely go out and bust this one. (Meanwhile I was thinking about how antitrust regulators should break up the federal government, since it’s the biggest monopoly 🙂 ). I look forward to there being a video to post.

Right after his talk, my dad had to zip to the airport to catch a flight, so the organizers arranged for a police escort to speed his progress. As a result, economist David D. Friedman was escorted to the Porto Alegre airport by a jeep, two cars, and 10 motorcycles who stopped traffic along all the cross-streets on his route – now that’s giving the profession the respect it deserves!

It was also notable that at the event, attendees did not stand for the Brazilian national anthem, but did stand for the anthem of their state, Rio Grande del Sul. I suggested that the Porto Alegre organizations leverage this regional spirit into an enthusiasm for greater autonomy and perhaps even secession. Not that I think they will be able to get power back from Brasilia, but trying and failing will demonstrate to local residents that government is about benefiting those in power, not about giving citizens what they want.

On Wednesday I spoke at an IEE breakout session, along with Ecuadorean economist Juan Fernando Carpio. Many great questions were asked, and more TSI duckies handed out. In this smaller setting, I got a chance to talk more with IEE President Luiz Leonardo Fração, who had been extremely busy running the Liberty Forum and making it a successful event.

Thursday I flew to Rio de Janeiro, and did an interview for O Globo where I tried to explain the basics of seasteading to a mass audience. Then I got a couple hours on Leblon, one of Rio’s famous beaches before speaking to the Instituto Millenium, along with Rodrigo Constantino. Again I met interesting people, was peppered with interesting questions and responded with answers and duckies. Afterwards I had dinner with the Instituto Milennium’s Executive Director Paulo Uebel, and we compared notes on running libertarian non-profits. He’ll soon be in the States for the upcoming Atlas Society and Heritage Foundation meetings in Florida, I’m sure some of you will see him there.

Friday I finally had a day for tourism, so I met up with Roberto Chiocca who I had had the pleasure of meeting in Porto Alegre, and his friend Marco, and we travelled up to Sugarloaf for some incredible views of Rio and hours of libertarian discussions. What an amazing city! (Include a Rio view picture).

I was quite impressed by the variety and activity of libertarian organizations in southern Brazil. Besides the aforementioned Mises Brazil, IEE, and Instituto Millenium, there is Ordem Livre, a Cato/Atlas branch, Instituto Liberdade, and just in case that isn’t enough my host Anthony Ling is busy founding a Students for Liberty branch in Porto Alegre!

There is so much more I could write about – the delicious food, the beautiful women, the constant questions about my Vibram FiveFingers shoes – but I need to work on my own fight for liberty, so I’ll leave you with posts from some other attendees:


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