Thursday, August 22, 2013

Getting what you need by other means.

A couple of months ago I read Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s by Sheila Fitzpatrick. Among other things, it explained blat, The word in Russian was used to explain the way that people used informal networks to obtain things that they could not obtain through the formal (legitimate) channels of the Soviet economy. There were "blat professionals" who used those skills to obtain inputs for the organizations for which they worked (since those organizations had production quotas, but often did not receive the inputs assigned to them by central planning with which to produce those outputs). There were "blat virtuosos" who played the blat game with virtuoso skill,  The book also explained the important role of the patron-protege relationship in Soviet Russia in which a well connected patron helped proteges to navigate the complexities of Soviet life.

I am now reading Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed by Larry Rohter. It explained Jeitinho, a Brazilian Portuguese term defined by Wikipedia as "an expression for the way of doing things by circumventing rules and social conventions."  (Wikipedia also notes that "a similar concept to viveza criolla in Argentina and Uruguay.") The Portuguese word for dribbling (in soccer) is used to describe the broken field running done by an expert in jeitinho in evading obstacles to achieve an objective. Brazilians also use a term from soccer equivalent to faking out an opponent in conjunction with jeitinho. Rohter also underlines the importance of patronage in Brazil, in which well connected patrons help their proteges around obstacles imposed by Brazil's formal institutions.

I suppose we have terms like "fixer" and "go to guy" identifying people who can help one to bypass the obstacles imposed by formal institutions in American society. In the past, the "ward heelers" in American big city political machines helped immigrants (and others in their wards) to bypass obstacles imposed by formal institutions to achieve their objectives.

Perhaps in societies in which formal systems don't function adequately, and especially where corruption is common, people have to develop informal institutions to enable them to survive, and words are created to describe what happens in the informal institutions.

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