The past two decades have been all about the BRICS: a group of five countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that soared to economic superstardom and gradually won geopolitical influence. But now, with their economies slowing down, those days seem to be over. What’s more, by some measures, the BRICS have squandered their years of plenty. Even as they poured money into building dynamic economies and becoming global leaders, they neglected to invest in their own populations. As a result, they are less far down the development road than many would have expected.
Nothing demonstrates the problem more clearly than a group of economies that have avoided it entirely. Mexico, Colombia, and Singapore have invested more in economic and social welfare than in becoming global leaders. As a result, these smaller economies seem to be doing better in some areas than the BRICS.
BIG BAD BRICS
By now, the story of the BRICS’ rise is familiar. Speedy development led to booming GDPs, per-capita incomes, foreign direct investment, and exports. The BRICS became less dependent on foreign aid and earned themselves seats at the geopolitical grown-up table, where they were expected to play grown-up roles in geopolitics.
The BRICS’ leaders took to their new roles with aplomb. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president between 2003 and 2010, for example, gave lectures at the United Nations and at African summits on how to reduce poverty and prevent and treat AIDS. For his part, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has served up advice on everything from national security to regional economic development in Asia. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has brought stern leadership to the promotion of a liberal global trade order, and his government has signed bilateral trade agreements with Bangladesh, China, South Korea, and Nepal. China, too, has been more proactive than usual in providing economic advice to all those who will listen. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has even gone so far as to suggest and help fund the new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. And South African presidents from Thabo Mbeki to Jacob Zuma have been proactive about promoting regional institutions such as the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, which was established in 2003 to help end conflict, ensure security, and protect national sovereignty.
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