Be Your Own Boss in Brazil

In this article in Brazzil, John Roscoe talks about the new feudalism in Brazil:

Feudalism is, you will recall, where the elite or nobility each have a piece of the kingdom, which are in fact mini-kingdoms, within a kingdom. They are the Law in their mini-kingdoms and everything in their mini-kingdoms is theirs to do with as they please—the land, the trees, the wealth-produced—but above all, this includes the workers of the kingdom that produce the wealth. The problem with having nobility, is that by definition, it must be kept to a small percentage of the population, say ten percent.

And the workers? What consideration must you give to their desires, needs and happiness? Just enough. Mustn't let them become too "uppity", or they'll start getting ideas, like "ambition". If they get ambition, then perhaps they'll want to be noble too. And if everyone has the opportunity to be a noble, well, there go hundreds of years of social order and your piece of the pie.

So, how do you keep reign over your workers when they outnumber you 9-1? By constantly maintaining your nobility. You must remind those that serve you, with your every thought, word and gesture, that they are fortunate to have the opportunity of serving you, in your kingdom

The article goes on to give many examples an illustrations in Brazilian workplaces.  Given the asymmetrical power relationship between employer and employee, one would imagine that it is better to be employer than employee.  Or is that so?  We will now cite some survey data from the 2003 TGI Brasil study.  This is a survey of 10,624 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old who were interviewed during 2003.  Among these respondents, only 4.3% said that they were owners or proprietors of businesses.  But among all respondents, fully 65% of them said that they completely agree with the statement: "I would like to set up my own company one day."

The next two charts show the agree rates separately by education, socio-economic level and age/sex groups.  There is an American proverb: "The grass is greener on the side of the fence."  This is derived from the Latin proverb "Fertilior seges est alieno semper in arvo" cited by Erasmus of Rotterdam which was published in English translation by Richard Taverner in 1545 as "The corne in an other mans ground semeth euer more fertyll and plentifull then doth oure owne."  The employer-employee relationship is such that each party is dissatisfied with their lot in life.  For the employee, it may be a case of discontent, envy, and jealousy that makes him/her want to be his/her own boss some day.  For the employer, the bitter pill is that there are a host of concerns (e.g. paying or evading taxes, hiring and firing people, surviving macroeconomic shocks, anticipating market changes, etc) that a 9-to-5 worker would never have to worry about.

(posted by Roland Soong, 11/1/2003)

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