While at work today over at the UMass Boston campus, I picked up a copy of El Planeta, a syndicated spanish-language newsweekly. The cover had a tricolor brazilian flag (green, gold and blue) superimposed on a US $100 bill – with the face of old Ben Franklin. The articles talks about brazilian immigrant entrepreneurialism. In the US, about 6.6% of the population works for themselves, immigrants: 7.5%. In Massachusetts, 29% of brazilian immigrants work for themselves: running small businesses as contractors or owning larger microbusinesses. The general population in this state has a 10% self-employed/business owner incidence.
That’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit!
I lived in Brazil when I was in high school – as an exchange student in Porto Alegre, in the far south. Many of the immigrants to this area come from the center-west of Brazil, a state called Minas Gerais, where both small-scale agriculture and heavy industries have been in decline due to the globalization of economics in the past quarter century. Although many people in the US have just watched their standard of living decline, things are still relatively stable. In Brazil, where the margins were not as plump, people had to move away, to the mega-cities of the south east of Brazil (Rio and Sao Paulo) or to other contries, like the US. (of course this is a simplification).
However, the economic crisis of integration with the world economy in the 80’s and 90’s, in addition to mass migrations, also created hyper-inflation. I remember the bus far going up every week – stickers on the bus window getting added to as the value of the currency declined. For many people, the devaluation destroyed their household economies. Although the banks created foreign-currency-matching interest-bearing accounts to help preserve people’s savings, poorer people had no options. The trouble was bad until the mid-1990’s when a new economic plan and integration with Northern (US-EU) economies was basically finished.
But the crisis created a generation of entrepreneurs. Euz Azevedo, the owner of a few restaurants in Boston, says “We are a nation of “hustlers” – the crisis made us so.” Of course, the brazilians who made the effort to immigrate are already part of that initiative-taking personality profile. But the incidence of entrepreneur points to even more. Partially the dynamics of tight immigrant communities supporting each other, and partially this evolution of business bustle as a result of the economic crisis.
Perhaps the economic crisis in the US will spur a new generation of entrepreneurs from all backgrounds? Perhaps millions more small businesses operating in a rich enterprise ecology will mitigate the grinding halt of traditional 20th-century corporate industry. Perhaps our governments will support small farmers and other small business operators with a finer-tuned array of services, incentives, trainings, infrastructure and the tax structure?
We shall see. Meanwhile, I’ll have to catch up with a brazilian at the local bakery!