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How a Rising Block of Countries Will Challenge America

There's a rising new bloc on the planet: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). What does that mean for America?
 
 
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Goldman Sachs -- via economist Jim O’Neill -- invented the concept of a rising new bloc on the planet: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). Some cynics couldn’t help calling it the “Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept.”

Not really. Goldman now  expects the BRICS countries to account for almost 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, and to include four of the world’s top five economies.

Soon, in fact, that acronym may have to expand to include Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea and, yes, nuclear Iran: BRIIICTSS?  Despite its well-known problems as a nation  under economic siege, Iran is also motoring along as part of the N-11, yet another distilled concept.  (It stands for the next 11 emerging economies.)

The multitrillion-dollar global question remains: Is the emergence of BRICS a signal that we have truly entered a new multipolar world?

Yale’s canny historian  Paul Kennedy (of “imperial overstretch” fame) is convinced that we either are about to cross or have already crossed a “historical watershed” taking us far beyond the post-Cold War unipolar world of “the sole superpower.” There are, argues Kennedy, four main reasons for that: the slow erosion of the U.S. dollar (formerly 85% of global reserves, now less than 60%), the “paralysis of the European project,” Asia rising (the end of 500 years of Western hegemony), and the decrepitude of the United Nations.

The Group of Eight (G-8) is already increasingly irrelevant. The G-20, which includes the BRICS, might, however, prove to be the real thing. But there’s much to be done to cross that watershed rather than simply be swept over it willy-nilly: the reform of the U.N. Security Council, and above all, the reform of the Bretton Woods system, especially those two crucial institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

On the other hand, willy-nilly may prove the way of the world.  After all, as emerging superstars, the BRICS have a ton of problems.  True, in only the last seven years Brazil  has added 40 million people as middle-class consumers; by 2016, it will have invested another $900 billion -- more than a third of its GDP -- in energy and infrastructure; and it’s not as exposed as some BRICS members to the imponderables of world trade, since its exports are only 11% of GDP, even less than the U.S.

Still, the key problem remains the same: lack of good management, not to mention a swamp of corruption. Brazil’s brazen new monied class is turning out to be no less corrupt than the old, arrogant, comprador elites that used to run the country.

In India, the choice seems to be between manageable and unmanageable chaos. The corruption of the country’s political elite would make Shiva proud. Abuse of state power, nepotistic control of contracts related to infrastructure, the looting of mineral resources, real estate property scandals -- they’ve got it all, even if India is not a Hindu Pakistan. Not yet anyway.

Since 1991, “reform” in India has meant only one thing: unbridled commerce and getting the state out of the economy. Not surprisingly then, nothing is being done to reform public institutions, which are a scandal in themselves. Efficient public administration? Don’t even think about it. In a nutshell, India is a chaotic economic dynamo and yet, in some sense, not even an emerging power, not to speak of a superpower.

Russia, too, is still trying to find the magic mix, including a competent state policy to exploit the country’s bounteous natural resources, extraordinary space, and impressive social talent.  It must modernize fast as, apart from Moscow and St. Petersburg, relative social backwardness prevails. Its leaders remain uneasy about neighboring China (aware that any Sino-Russian alliance would leave Russia as a distinctly junior partner).  They are distrustful of Washington, anxious over the depopulation of their eastern territories, and worried about the cultural and religious alienation of their Muslim population.

 
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