Smart Development

How Colombia, Mexico, and Singapore Beat the BRICS

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.


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

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