Sunday, November 26, 2006

The real Brazilian inequality

The Supreme Court of the United States pays a U$171,500 annual salary for its chief justice and U$164,100 for the associate justices.

The Brazilian Supreme Court (“Supremo Tribunal Federal”) wants to raise the salary of its chief justice (ironically named “President”) to R$390,000 a year, while the other justices’ salaries will go up to R$338,000. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to convert these salaries since cost of living is so different between the two countries, but even if you do that, the salary for the Brazilian justices now total U$179,723 for the chief and U$155,760 for the others (2.17 conversion rate).

If you take into account the difference in size of both economies, the GDP per capita, and so on, these numbers are more than surprising: they are shameful. In the US, the average annual salary is around U$42,000 a year. That means that the Supreme Court Chief Justice earns a little over 4 times the average income. The Brazilian average income is around R$12,000/year, so the new justices’ salaries will amount to 32.5 to 28 times that.

In the US, the justice’s salaries are defined by congress. In Brazil, they are determined by the justice themselves. Also, in Brazil the court’s salaries are by law defined as the highest paid by the government. Needless to say that each increase like this causes a waterfall effect all over the other government branches. No limits or checks-and-balances here.

Worst of all, for all the problems and flaws of the American legal system, equating it with the Brazilian system is really ludicrous. According to the Heritage Freedom Index, "The judiciary (Brazil's) …is inefficient, subject to political and economic influence, and plagued by problems relating to lack of resources and training of officials." Judicial decisions can take years, and "decisions of the Supreme Federal Tribunal are not automatically binding on lower courts, leading to more appeals than would otherwise occur." I can vouch for that. I personally experienced both systems and no comparison is possible.

Now, Brazil is a country that abhors inequality. The left rose to power based on the “lets fight the inequality” flag.

Apparently, state sponsored inequality doesn’t count.