Daniel Altman
Chief Economist, Big Think

BRIC or Bric-à-brac?

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It's been more than ten years since the folks at Goldman Sachs dubbed Brazil, Russia, India, and China the BRIC countries, and lately other countries have been trying to glom on to that group.

Daniel Altman

Daniel Altman is Big Think's Chief Economist and an adjunct faculty member at New York University's Stern School of Business.  Daniel wrote economic commentary for The Economist, The New York Times, and The International Herald Tribune before founding North Yard Economics, a non-profit consulting firm serving developing countries, in 2008.  In between, he served as an economic advisor in the British government and wrote four books, most recently Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy.


It's been more than ten years since the folks at Goldman Sachs dubbed Brazil, Russia, India, and China the BRIC countries, and lately other countries have been trying to glom on to that group.  Korea with a K at the end, maybe South Africa with an S at the very end of the word.  The thing is, these countries are actually very different.

They're big economies, they're growing, they're important to the global economy but they're very different, and they're not the only ones that should be getting investors’ attention right now.  There are certainly interesting things happening in China, but China is still using the low-hanging fruit for its growth in the global economy.  It's still using low wages that come from people migrating in from the countryside to the cities.  It's still using its ability to export the same products as Korea or Japan but at lower prices.  It's going to run out of gas with those things eventually, but it's not going to happen for another few decades.

Russia, on the other hand, still depends to a large degree on commodities for its growth.  It's a totally different economy from China, but that commodity-led growth can't last forever.  And the question is, will Russia be able to convert all of the revenue that it gets from selling its oil and natural gas and other commodities into long-term growth by investing in its people?

India's a very different case because we've never seen such an enormous country that also happens to be a democracy trying to grow, using some of the same tools as China, perhaps, with big manufacturing bases, but also some other ones with the developing service industry.

And finally, Brazil gives faith that you can grow in a way where you allow all of the people in your economy to benefit.  The Brazilian government has been using good economic policies combined with various types of redistribution to try and ensure that inequality doesn’t become a byproduct of their growth.  And in fact, inequality has been dropping in Brazil.

But these are four very different stories, and the reason why investors should think about other countries as places for assets in their portfolio or maybe operations for their business is because these four countries are not the greatest places in the world to do business.  They have a lot of corruption.  They have untransparent tax systems and regulations that customs regime are sometimes difficult to navigate, and they also don't have the best protection for investors.

If you look at other mid-sized countries, like, for example, a Peru, a Malaysia, or a Turkey, you find much better places to do business. So unless you absolutely have to have an enormous market with hundreds of millions of people who could buy your products, you can go to other places where its more likely that the money you earn will make it back to your home country because it won't be eaten away by all these other little problems. 

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


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