Some say there are places where corruption is “cultural.” But that’s not exactly true. And ironically, Brazil now proves it.
Brazilian culture actually has a name — well-known and even faintly charming — for the ability to “get things done:” the Jeitinho Brasileiro. Often translated as the “Brazilian way,” it derives from an expression that is close to the English phrase, “pull some strings.” It refers to palm greasing and various forms of defying rules and norms to get done what needs to get done.
But that is not to say that Brazilian culture affirmatively endorses corruption. I have never found a country — Brazil included — which teaches that a suitcase full of cash, exchanged under the table for an illegal benefit, is a good thing, such that efforts to reduce it should be opposed. Nobody — and I do mean nobody — believes this (with the possible exception of those profiting from it). Rather, countries vary in their degree of tolerance of, or resignation to, corruption.
Scholars have described the Jeitinho Brasileiro as a cultural adaptation to a long history of colonization and military dictatorships. Government was corrupt, but the smart ones learned how to beat the system. And as we now know, lots of them were doing so. Corruption may not have been an affirmative good, but it was a felt necessity.
But no more. The anti-corruption revolution now occurring in Brazil is best understood as the new generation’s revolt against the perceived necessity of jeitinho. The law will no longer look the other way. Armed with new legal tools, enforcement officials have ushered in a new era in Brazilian government, founded on a new set of cultural assumptions. And our research found that for the Brazilians, the new regime comes not a day too soon. They may have tolerated corruption, and learned how to use it to get ahead. But they never liked it.
Chapter 2 of our ebook, “Olympic Anti-Corruption Report: Brazil and the 2016 Summer Games,” discusses at greater length the past, present, and future of the jeitinho Brasileiro. Check it out here.
Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Associate Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. He’ll be a moderator and panelist at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.