The Riches of Sao Paulo, Brazil

3 min

524 points

If you Google Sao Paulo Brazil, you will find it is the richest city in Brazil, and hence the richest city in South America. It is kind of looked down upon by the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro, the city that IS Brazil in the minds of many. You will find out that Sao Paulo has horrendous traffic, making it the city with the most privately owned helicopters. The crime rate is pretty horrendous as there is crushing inequality between the haves and has nots. There are no beaches, as Sao Paulo is located inland.

You will find that it is known for its food, which makes sense since it is the capital of industry and finance in Brazil. People spend most of their time working. With no beach for distraction, and limited free time, what are you to do except make an occasion out of mandatory activities such as eating? Thus, Sao Paulo may be the gastronomical capital of South America in addition to being the richest. This would certainly be true in terms of variety- due to its colorful history, Sao Paulo Brazil can claim the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, as well as a sizable middle-eastern population. All this has left a cultural mark on the city, and especially on the food available.

But what of Sao Paulo’s “riches”? Just what makes Sao Paulo the richest city in South America? Hands down, it is the industry, which is then followed by agriculture. Brazil contains tremendous natural resources, and these are being exploited as they would in any country under the world’s current capitalist system. Like it or not, this system makes people rich at the expense of the environment, and thus of “the rest of us”. The rich of Sao Paulo is in the extreme minority. They get most of the financial benefits of plundering the earth’s riches. And again, this does not only apply to Brazilians, it is the norm in almost all countries. But the rich, in taking from the earth in an unsustainable way, leave life worse off for the planet.

Oftentimes, this directly impacts people as, for example, when a forest is clear-cut and nearby inhabitants may experience landslides or degraded topsoil due to the lack of roots to keep the soil in place. Or, as when highly toxic chemicals are used to extract minerals from the soil and these toxins are then dumped into the immediate environment or into a nearby river or stream. People, usually poor, who come into contact with these toxic substances then become ill or get cancer in much higher numbers than other people. But the people who stand to benefit from these actions can get away with it because laws against such practices are often weak or not really enforced. Companies are also often able to bribe would-be inspectors. In this way, the rich get richer while the poor get… well, more screwed, basically.

So Sao Paulo Brazil really does a good job of illustrating what’s wrong with the system. You have the richest city on a continent, which generally makes people think of a happening place with lots of hustle and bustle, lots of productive people who are tirelessly working but living a good life with plenty of material goods. But when you take a closer look, you see that 30% of the people live in slums (government estimates), that violence is endemic. Of Sao Paulo’s 11 million residents, 35% live in extreme poverty and another 27% live in mid-level poverty. The richest 10% has 73.4% of the wealth. So if you’re like most people, you begin to think “maybe it’s not such a good thing to be the richest city?”

Maybe. Maybe not. The system is deeply flawed, as anyone who looks with an objective mind can see. Perhaps it’s not so much a question of being rich as much as HOW you become rich. Do you become rich by continually extracting finite resources from the earth? From exploitative labor? Then being rich is a bad thing. But perhaps there are other ways to have material wealth without destroying the environment and peoples’ lives. It seems that more and more people see the injustice created by our current system and seek to change it. The answers are not definite, yet there are people doing work which helps bring benefit to all, including those who need it most- those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

The name which most obviously comes to mind is Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, who along with Grameen Bank won the Nobel peace prize for his work in helping the poor through micro-lending and social business. Similar systems should work in a place like Brazil- if not in the same way, then in the same spirit. Social business has the potential to take care of all the problems we face with our current system. Instead of focusing on profit (read: money), social business has as its main focus doing social good. But it is not a charity, a social business is run the same way a business would be and should take care of itself financially. Social business is beyond the scope of this article, it is presented as a possibility in changing the injustices seen all over the world, including Sao Paulo Brazil.

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