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Corruption is Not Cultural: The Jeitinho Brasileiro in Decline

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.

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  1. Hi, Andy – Thanks for saying this. People have been very clever with coming up with excuses for bribery, but there are none. As others have said, evil should be called by its name, and corruption is evil. My experience is that when folks start talking about “local culture” and “doing things the local way,” you should put your hand on your wallet because they are after your money. We should not accept any excuses for bribery or for looking the other way where corruption exists. Cheers, Joe

  2. Andy
    I agree totally with you. It is experiencing a transformation of thought in Brazilian society, from a new generation that is dissatisfied and striving to promote a new ethical posture in all directions. For example I Join a group that creates the facebook page.

    See how interesting:
    Revealing ethical and kind actions of ordinary citizens, true idols of our society, we will end up with the decadent "old Brazilian way"
    This is a busted our supporter Annie. The video you were struggling to up the street when they were approached by a girl who was walking in the opposite direction. She helped them in the walk and so is our # ídologentil today. We saw a case like this? Share with us! # novojeitinhobrasileiro
    We will show that with small ethical actions can make a difference. We can all be idols!
    # novojeitinhobrasileiro
    Activities such as these may not seem great things, but if all stop being so individualistic, we believe that we would have much happier days and filled with joy from small acts


    If you want to know more about this spontaneous and genuine movement, I am available to help with our material.
    Big hug
    Fabio Lima – [email protected] – Brazil

  3. I still would say that corruption is cultural and facilitated mostly by the top-tier of the politic or corporation. Corruption occurs when the "agreed culture" or acceptance of how things are done does not meet the actual. In a football match rules are the requirement for fair play and competition. So, it matters not what the tendency is, in the ruled competition or contract, corruption is defined within those constraints.

  4. I have to disagree with the easy dismissal of culture as the root cause of corruption. Of course no one will openly embrace corruption as an ideal, that's a straw-man argument, and historians who merely blame colonialism are engaging in a hand-waving argument. Canada was too once a colony.

    What is required is an analysis of history, and a quick review reminds us that for 700 years roughly from 700-1400 AD the Iberian peninsula was dominated by Muslims. While Englishmen were writing the Magna Carta, Al Andalus was in the midst of centuries of political turmoil. That 700 year occupation by Muslims froze the imperialistic political form in what became the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal while western Christianity progressed away from imperialism to political stability.

    Corruption is cultural, all the nations of what were once colonies of Portugal and Spain (Latin America) are very much different from those of the English.

    Good for Brazil, I love the country, but it has relics of that distant 700 years of culture to overcome.

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