In This Review
Brazilian Politics on Trial: Corruption and Reform Under Democracy

Brazilian Politics on Trial: Corruption and Reform Under Democracy

By Luciano Da Ros and Matthew M. Taylor

Lynne Rienner, 2022, 281 pp.

In the 2022 presidential contest in Brazil, both Jair Bolsonaro and Luis Inácio Lula da Silva leveled charges of systemic corruption against one another. According to this well-researched and cogently argued study, both sets of accusations have merit; recent Brazilian history is “one long continuous process of state appropriation by corrupt actors.” Da Ros and Taylor find several reasons for this inglorious tradition. The fragmented multiparty system compels presidents to buy votes to forge majority coalitions. A monstrously large state apparatus is riddled with patronage and graft, campaign finance rules that fail to stem inflows of dark money, and appalling patterns of elite impunity whereby even repeat offenders evade punishment. To attack these root causes of corruption, the authors argue, the Brazilian government must enact reforms that would shrink the number of political parties, reduce the expense of political contests, ban misbehaving companies that seek public contracts, and monitor the incomes of political appointees. Improved audits, better anti-money-laundering laws, and effective interagency coordination would also help. Such incremental, piecemeal reforms are more likely to yield lasting results than big, splashy anticorruption campaigns that, as the Brazilian experience suggests, risk discrediting democracy itself.