Chapter 13: Epilogue

Footnote: Brazil: An Illustrative Example

How could a country enslaved by unbridled neo-liberal global capitalism be transformed into a paradise of wealth, well-being, equity and fulfilment for all? By restoring to each his just and self-evidently rightful inheritance in the planet on which he was born. [português]

Land Area8,515,767km2
Per Person0·24677416km2
Per Person4·052288129hectares
Per Family[1]16·209152516hectares
Per Family[2]24·313728774hectares
Brazil is a wonderful land. It is very big, being a little larger than the 48 contig­uous states of the USA. For the most part, it is almost permanently bathed in what I would call a benign summer cli­mate. Its soil is rich and fertile. Its grow­ing season is essentially continuous. You can plant practically anything and it will bear good fruit.

As seen from the above table, there exists just over 4 hectares [10 acres] of this wonderful land per person [adult, adolescent, child, baby] in Brazil. Thus, a family of 4 people [father, mother and two children] could have just over 16 hectares [40 acres] of land. A median multi-generation family of six people [father, mother, two children and two grandparents] would have 24 hectares [60 acres] of land.

The median amount of land per person under cultivation in the world is about 2400 square metres. This provides sufficient food for everybody. That some have over­abundance while others starve is not a systemic problem: it is a distribution prob­lem created by politics. The 2400 m² of cultivated land needed to support a human being is only 6% of the amount of land per person in Brazil.

In many parts of Brazil there is an excellent law that permits a landowner to cult­ivate only up to 40% of his land, leaving the remaining 60% to natural forest. Of course, the forest part can be managed sustainably for producing wood. Even so, the amount of land per person that must be cultivated to provide that person's food is still only 15% of what he is allowed to cultivate. If, therefore, we were to allocate only 1·6 hectares per person [9·6 hectares per median family of 6 people] that would leave 4·6 hectares per person [60% of the available land] for public and other uses. More than reasonable, I think. And everybody could live bounteously in a pleasant natural setting.

With top quality universally distributed education, people in their land shares could eventually develop intellectual and technical skills to produce all that an advanced modern civilization could desire: distributed communications infrastructure whose nodes are operated and maintained by each land share holder, advanced diverse small-scale food and raw materials production with machines designed specifically for the purpose, community trust, happy fulfilled people with time to pursue things beyond mere economic survival. And besides, a distributed socio-economy, that is also well interconnected, is vastly less vulnerable to external threats — be they economic or military.

The Status Quo

The population of Brazil comprises a small super-rich elite, a nouveau riche middle class, and a vast under class of poor. All productive resources are in the private hands of the elite. The economy follows a familiar model. It bestows health, wealth and happiness upon an exigent elite, relegating its meek to misery and starvation, while leaving a middle majority in a churning cauldron of economic uncertainty.

The difference with Brazil is that the workings of this old familiar model are so much more overt and visible than in more advanced countries where the powers-that-be are far more adept at hiding it all. The poor are especially visible. Wherever you go on foot, there is an unignorable omnipresence of poor people pestering for money.

It would appear that practically all land is owned by the land barons [latifundiários], who deploy their vast properties to grow cash crops for export, while two-thirds of the Brazilian population are pushed to the unwanted margins to live in favelas poised precariously on dangerous unstable mountain slopes that are liable to land­slides and floods during the ubiquitous heavy rains. Poverty, hunger and violence reign as the people survive their shortened lives. And the 'economy' booms.

Every year, during the rainy season, heavy, often violent rain floods communities. Overflowing rivers inundate homes and destroy furniture, clothes, domestic applian­ces and other household belongings. Homes are destroyed and carried away by water. Homes built in precarious places slide down hillsides. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people are rendered homeless. They paddle hopelessly through streets of mud. Bridges are washed away, isolating them from outside help. They are left with nothing. They have to start all over again.

But why? Because their homes and communities are all built in stupid places: in the flood planes of tropical rivers that drain enormous areas of the Brazilian Grande Sertão; in precarious places on the steep sides of mountains made of mineral ores, which loosen and slide like giant rafts of mud as they become soaked by the trop­ical rain. The flood plane profiles of the rivers are blindingly obvious from the land­scape. Rivers have several embankments ranging from the normal benign flow level going up in ascending steps according to the discrete severity levels of seasonal and long-term flood resonances. One doesn't have to be a geologist to see this. The potentially dangerous mountainsides too are obvious.

So why do people build homes and communities in these places? Is it because they are stupid? In part, perhaps. But that isn't the dominant reason. They build in these places because they have nowhere else to go. So does this mean that the Brazilian landscape includes no safe places to build? No. There are vastly more safe places than dangerous ones. So why? Because all those vast safe places are owned by the land barons who want it all for their agribusinesses to grow cash crops like beef and soy to export to places inhabited by people who load their plates with more than they can eat, throwing half away while the Brazilian poor starve in their favelas.

Brazil is currently the world's top exporter of beef and soy and the fourth largest grain exporter while its sickening news footage shows desperate citizens impeding the work of trash collectors by rummaging in the backs rubbish collection trucks seeking any salvageable pieces of bone, meat, vegetable and fruit. That's capitalism: it's just that Brazil isn't as good at hiding its effects as the more developed countries.

Is there no such thing as planning approval in Brazil? Don't they have authorities, advised by geological experts, that can forbid building in dangerous and precarious places and allocate safe areas for people to build? I don't know. If there are, they do not seem to be very apparent. I suspect that the powerful agribusiness lobby suc­ceeds in quashing any official reports by hiring the best expert witnesses to counter the science of clear conscience. So who picks up the tab for these annual disasters? The government? Not really. It's the ordinary waged citizens persuaded by psychol­ogist designed conscience-bashing television appeals to donate all they can from their very limited resources to save their poor compatriots in acts of solidariadade. Who should be paying? Those who cause the problem: the latifundiários.

Over recent decades, to provide the technical and administrative cogs for this eco­nomy, there has arisen a new middle class who now live more affluent lives, like petty piranhas, within a churning cauldron of perpetual economic uncertainty. Un­like their economic counterparts with their make-shift leaky brick boxes of the fav­elas, these nouveau riche tend to live in high-rise condominium buildings, ex­hib­iting the ubiquitous universal characteristic of 'middle class shittiness'. This is in such stark contrast to the relatively poorer inhabitants of the interior [O Grande Sertão], who seem to have a pleasant and inclusive attitude towards everybody.

To Eradicate Poverty

There're generally considered to be about 15 million people in Brazil who live below the poverty line — whatever that means. It is generally expressed as a real or pre­sumed income in US dollars per day, which of course is essentially meaningless. In any case, where the poverty line is drawn depends on the particular interests and biases of who draws it. For this reason, the population it marks generally tends to be well on the low side of reality.

Eight million people live in areas that are susceptible to landslides and destructive flooding. Some of these may not be included in the 15 million who are below the so-called poverty line. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that there are of the order of 20 million people in Brazil [~10% of the population] who are living in condi­tions that are wholly inadequate for human habitation.

The solution is as follows. Give each family an adequate amount of land in safe places that are not prone to flooding or subsidence. Give them prefabricated high-tech accommodation units and educate them in small scale self-sufficient farming procedures. Design and equip them with special-purpose robotic machinery to facili­tate diverse small-scale farming. Provide hybrid local and on-line schools for their children. Provide information, training and equipment for the people to engage in a plethora of innovative high-tech cottage industries.

So let's allocate 1 hectare of land to each of these 20 million people. That's only a quarter of the available land per person in Brazil. This 20 million hectares [200,000 km²] amounts to only 200,000 ÷ 8,515,767 = 2·35% of the land area of Brazil.

Notwithstanding, the total land area of Brazil includes uncultivable mountainous regions, vast rain forests, Pantanal, rivers and lakes. The result is that only 30% of Brazil's land area is established farmland.

Even so, the amount required to accommodate the 20 million poor of Brazil is still only 7·8% of the total area of established farmland. To put this in perspective, if the average family were to comprise 6 individuals as described earlier, the amount of farmland required would comprise 3⅓ million lots of 6 hectares [15 acres] each.

In my opinion, to take 20 million people out of suffering and deprivation to become economically self-sustaining, the rest of the world can well be made to forego 7·8% of Brazil's current agribusiness production. These formerly poverty-ridden people will no longer have an irresistible and fully justified motive for crime, as they did while languishing in their favelas.

Then the streets will become safe for the middle classes. They can tear down their high walls and 10,000 volt electric fences and come out of their security-coded condominium high-rises away from the ubiquitous gaze of their insidiously invasive camera systems into a free open vibrant community.

But It Won't Happen

The land barons [the latifundiários] want to keep their land. It was — at least in most cases — given to each land baron's ancestors centuries ago by the king before the country became a republic. And the laws that govern property and ownership have stayed much the same in principle from then till now. The glaring flaw in these laws is that they contain no negative feedback terms. So all the land stays in the hands of the same number of land barons all through the generations.

Being in possession of the one and only terrestrial resource that can turn work into wealth, the land barons become ever richer. This makes them ever more powerful and influential. This, in turn, elevates them above the law, enabling them to annex illegally land belonging to peasant farmers, as epitomised by the Carajás Massacre perpetrated on 17 April 1996 under the command of Coronel José Mário Pantoja at Eldorado dos Carajás, Pará, Brazil. Thus eventually, all land gets mopped up by the latifundiários. So the land barons are going to resist, with all the force they can muster, any attempt to dispossess them of any of their precious land for allocation to 20 million poor or homeless people.

Twenty million poor starving people suddenly becoming self-sufficient would also be very unpalatable for the whole government and economic infrastructure of Brazil. It would cause an economic short-circuit in that these 20 million people would pro­duce and consume most of their basic needs of life without involving any formal or monetary buying and selling process. In this situation it would be illegal, difficult or impossible to extract any form of taxation on production or on the small amount of exchange that took place. State revenue would plunge.

The Brazilian powers-that-be have no incentive to install these people in their own allodial small-holdings annexed from the land barons. So this first precarious step towards Utopia will never get off the ground. The oppressive status quo will con­tinue until the day in the distant future when the pressure pan of poverty explodes uncontainably in the faces of those who rule.

Parent Document | © 26 January 2022 Robert John Morton