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"What Becker Calls Bribery, We Call A Scholarship" (Int'l Edition)

International -- Readers Report

"What Becker Calls Bribery, We Call a Scholarship" (int'l edition)

The subject of Gary Becker's "`Bribe' Third World parents to keep their kids in school" (Economic Viewpoint, Nov. 22) is delicate and complex. It concerns all nations, rich and poor, since in today's globalized economy, what happens in one country will directly or indirectly affect others.

Here in Brazil, what Becker calls bribery, we call a scholarship. It has been happening in Brazil for the past four or five years. It started in Brasilia, when then-Governor Cristovam Buarque put the scheme into practice. Today, it is used in many states, and even the federal government has its own program. It is widely discussed and approved by all sectors of society and almost everyone in the political spectrum. So this is not news to Brazil.

It's important that we read in your magazine not only about the problems but also the solutions. I hope to read more articles with information about how some people solved their problems.

Bernardo Jurema

Recife, Brazil

At its Mexican facility, my company had a problem similar to the one Becker discusses, but it involved adult absenteeism, not child labor. We found that the head of the household (usually the husband) would fail to come to work for some time just after receiving his paycheck. Offering higher wages to encourage better attendance was tried but failed: The worker could put in fewer hours and still take home the same pay.

We then tried offering the worker's wife a food coupon for free groceries each month if the husband worked a minimum number of days. Attendance jumped dramatically. This simple approach solved the problem. Perhaps the world's less fortunate children will also be able to enjoy such an easy solution to their problems.

Paul McCutcheon

SingaporeReturn to top

Mexico's PRI Rules through a "Buddy System" (int'l edition)

"Why Mexicans won't toss out the ruling party" (International Business, Nov. 22) deserves several readings. With 70 years of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule in evidence, a theory of Mexican political continuity that goes beyond headlines is needed. What might be called a "split-level theory of the PRI" would go like this:

PRI refers to two very distinct orders of fact: One corresponds to the levels of local, state, and congressional politics, the other to presidential politics. At the first, lower level, PRI refers to candidates and political organizations that can, and often do, lose elections to opposition parties. At the second, higher level, however, PRI refers to the Mexican form of government, not to a political party. In this view, it is a contradiction in terms to imagine that the PRI could lose a national presidential election. For Mexicans, voting against the PRI would be equivalent to voting against the Mexican flag. It would be the equivalent of voting against the Mexican form of government.

What, then, is the Mexican form of government? You cite a Mexican political scientist who says it is a "buddy system." It's [akin to] a group of buddies that make up the "100 families" of Mexico--the consentidos del sistema, or privileged classes. For Mexico's poor and functionally illiterate, who make up more than 50% of the population, what matters is corn tortillas on the table--tortillas that often come, directly or indirectly, through PRI channels. Every six years, Mexico's underclasses are asked to acknowledge the benefits they have received from "the system" by voting for the PRI. In effect, voters are looking backward, not forward. They are acknowledging, not choosing.

The uncertain movement toward a market opening, in the energy and other sectors, will be led by officials affiliated with the PRI--like it or not.

George Baker

HoustonReturn to top

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