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Macroeconomist Scott Sumner brings up the perennial question of why Brazil is the Nation of the Future and always will be.
Brazil has made a heartening amount of progress in this century, but so has the global competition, such as China and South Korea.
Brazil averaged 402 on the 2012 PISA school test scores. That’s about a standard deviation below the OECD average and about 1.4 below Northeast Asia:
PISA scores are on a scale constructed to look like how the the SAT sections are scored, with 500 as the intended mean and 100 as the intended standard deviation.
Overall, Brazil came in 90 points behind Americans. Brazilians scored 32 points lower on the latest PISA than than African Americans, 63 points below Hispanic Americans, 116 points behind white Americans, and 146 points behind Asian Americans.
I’m sure if you broke out Brazilian scores by race, you’d see a similar pattern, but just offset by 50 to 100 points. That’s actually pretty good news for Brazil because it suggests that the country could smarten up some by trying harder.
Tyler Cowen relates that in all the hours he’s spent sitting around airports in Brazil, he’s never seen a Brazilian reading a book. Apparently there were no printing presses in Brazil until the Emperor of Brazil * arrived from Portugal about two centuries ago. That’s Islamically bad — in contrast, as Charles C. Mann pointed out in 1493 the Spanish managed to keep a printing press going on Guam for most of the last four centuries or so.
Brazil has never really had to toughen up to try to win major wars. It’s a huge country on a continent that has been blessed with more peace than most places, so it has always been able to dance along enjoying life without worrying that its failure to educate its populace might cost it in the next war.
The Prussian state pretty much invented the idea that improving their human capital by educating the peasants and teaching them to be better farmers would help Prussia win wars. This was a priority for Prussia because it’s in a tough neighborhood.
Places that aren’t particularly competitive militarily, either because they are too big (Brazil) or too small (Mexico v. America or Guatemala v. Mexico) or culturally have tended toward passivity (India), have tended not to bother to cultivate their human capital in order to win wars.
William James and Jimmy Carter searched for the “moral equivalent of war,” but decadence always beckons. E.g., As a demonstration of American superiority over the Soviets, we Americans landed on the Moon in 1969 in a sort of Wolfean “single combat” as an alternative to actually fighting WWIII. But we couldn’t get back in just eight years today because … eh, what’s the point?
The Chinese were famously decadent for several centuries in recent times. But Mao picked lots of fights (with Chiang, with America in Korea, with the Soviets) and that nationalism seems to have motivated the Chinese, at least temporarily.
By the way, William James was a great man and we should keep in mind his quest.
By the way, when thinking about the Social Construction of Insanity in regard to, say, boxing promoters who decide in late middle age that they were always little girls on the inside, it’s worth noting how many lunatics once believed themselves to be the Emperor of Brazil. Yet, it doesn’t seem to come up much anymore. Why has our society become so Emperor-of-Brazilphobic that even the insane are socially conditioned not to declare themselves the rightful heirs to the Throne of Petropolis?