Friday, May 17, 2013

Rio, Sao Paulo and Unintended Consequences

I have had some interesting conversations about the state of affairs in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and the role of unintended consequences.

Rio had been Brazil’s capital until JK had a brilliant idea to move the capital to the middle of nowhere.  Brasilia was built and born, and became the new capital.  And in doing so, helped rob Rio of its raison d’etre.  Never a business hub like Sao Paulo (would become), Rio lived on the industry created by being the seat of government, and the bureaucratic jobs therein.  Once that was gone, it teetered without a real industry to support the city.  Tourism still exists, but that is hardly enough to support such a large city.  Thus, Rio fell into real dire straits in the 1960s and 1970s when it was robbed of a supporting engine.

Meanwhile, in the 1950s, JK turned Sao Paulo into Brasil’s industrial heart.  He invited numerous car companies, among other industries, to build their factories in the city and surrounding environs.  There are still a large number of car companies like Hyundai, Ford and others that have their Southern American factories in Sao Paulo today.  The industrial boom in Sao Paulo led waved of economic migrants to descend on the city…which was wholly unprepared to deal with crush  of people that arrived. 

Roads were (and are) not nearly large enough to deal with the sheer numbers as the city doubled and tripled in size.  Today, the roads are clogged.  One-fifth of drivers are forbidden to drive on certain days depending on corresponding digits on the license plates in a feeble attempt to limit motorists. 

Meanwhile, the environmental degradation on the city was profound.  The city has three rivers that one through it.  Decades ago, people could swim in the rivers; today as we drove along the riverside,  the water was black and oily.I had to put my shirt over my nose to ward off the fetid smell. 

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
-Cree proverb

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