The Ever-Emerging Markets

Why Economic Forecasts Fail

Gao Xiqing, the president of China Investment Corporation smiles as he holds a mallet to hit the ceremonial gong during his visit to the Karachi's Stock Exchange, December 2012. Akhtar Soomro / Courtesy Reuters

In the middle of the last decade, the average growth rate in emerging markets hit over seven percent a year for the first time ever, and forecasters raced to hype the implications. China would soon surpass the United States as an economic power, they said, and India, with its vast population, or Vietnam, with its own spin on authoritarian capitalism, would be the next China. Searching for the political fallout, pundits predicted that Beijing would soon lead the new and rising bloc of the BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- to ultimate supremacy over the fading powers of the West. Suddenly, the race to coin the next hot acronym was on, and CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa) emerged from the MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey).

Today, more than five years after the financial crisis of 2008, much of that euphoria and all those acronyms have come to seem woefully out of date. The average growth rate in the emerging world fell back to four percent in 2013. Meanwhile, the BRICs are crumbling, each for its own reasons, and while their summits go on, they serve only to underscore how hard it is to forge a meaningful bloc out of authoritarian and democratic regimes with clashing economic interests. As the hype fades, forecasters are left reconsidering the mistakes they made at the peak of the boom.

Their errors were legion. Prognosticators stopped looking at emerging markets as individual stories and started lumping them into faceless packs with catchy but mindless acronyms. They listened too closely to political leaders in the emerging world who took credit for the boom and ignored the other global forces, such as easy money coming out of the United States and Europe, that had helped power growth. Forecasters also placed far too much predictive weight on a single factor -- strong demographics, say, or globalization -- when every shred of research shows that a complex array of forces drive economic growth.


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