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Brazilian electoral Markets in everything

November 14, 2012      by: Adriano Teixeira

These posters were found in Copacabana (Rio de Janeiro) a few weeks ago, during the election period. One of them made the – obviously ironic – apology of buying and selling votes. The other one reproduced parts of Machado de Assis’ story.

Well, definitely this is a market for votes! Tyler Cowen always writes about curious “markets in everything” although he probably didn’t know this market. But don’t worry, this is just a cultural joke of Brazilian artists.

Pictured above is a quote from “The Devil’s Church”, a Machado de Assis’ story, widely acclaimed as the greatest Brazilian writer. In a few words, I will try to summarize the story. One day the Devil decided to create his own church. The doctrine was simple: encourage all sins and condemn all good virtues. Since the beginning, the new religion had been successful. However, as time went by, people started doing good actions in secret all over again. Furiously, the Devil complained to God, who answered: “It is the eternal human contradiction.”

When I saw those posters in Copacabana, I was curious to find out what it was. So I told to the artists: “it’s an illegal market but… what’s the price of voting?”. One of them promptly replied: “That’s the key question. We are encouraging people to think about selling their votes then – because of human contradiction – people tend to take the elections more seriously. Voting is priceless.” In other words, at first, people are attracted by the possibility of selling something and making money but they come closer and realise that it is about selling something priceless: votes. When you ask people to sell their votes on a natural way, for example on Copacabana beach, “human contradiction” is activated and then people start to see the act of selling votes from a different perspective. Saying as a negative “Don’t sell votes”, wouldn’t have the same results as when using contradiction to call people’s attention.

Finally, we can’t forget that buying and selling votes has been widely used throughout Brazilian history. An early method of influencing elections in Brazil was the “voto de cabresto” (or halter vote), when the local coronels dictated their choice of candidates to voters, many times trading it in exchange of benefits or basically through intimidation. Artistic movements like this aim to prevent that past mistakes happen again in Brazil.

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P.S: René, many thanks for your help on this post.

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