"Politics Could Be the BRICS' Undoing."
True, and you disregard them at your peril. The spread of democracy and free markets in much of Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe is impressive, but some BRICS have been laggards rather than leaders in this area. Legitimacy in these countries often depends on meeting sky-high expectations for economic success, while political checks and balances remain in their infancy. So forget about all those paeans to "authoritarian capitalism" you read in the op-ed pages. Just because Beijing has a fancy new airport and President Vladimir Putin can bulldoze entire neighborhoods at will doesn't mean China's and Russia's politics give them an edge. Even in democratic India, politics are often overwhelmed by corruption, and politically open Brazil struggles with crippling crime stats and political scandals.
The BRICS may seem stable now, but nobody knows what the future holds. Admiration for oligarchs easily turns into envy and anger. Ubiquitous mobile-phone cameras and instant Internet distribution constrain the use of public force. Under the surface and among the younger generation, pride in economic achievements and a sense of material well-being are now coupled with demands for better health care and national recognition. Increasingly, more is not the answer -- citizens of the BRICS want better. Local elites must act adroitly to keep this new mood from developing into a combustible mix. The current generation of leaders in China has not forgotten the lessons of the Cultural Revolution -- but the next generations may.
Some tailwinds that have benefited the BRICS these past decades may yet turn into headwinds. For instance, these countries have benefited from relatively low budget allocations to military spending -- a fruit of Pax Americana. That could change if conflict broke out on the Indian subcontinent or Iran acquired nuclear weapons. And serious political unrest could easily derail the rise of the BRICS: The Bo Xilai case in China, the upheavals following the Arab Spring, and the power blackout in India were recent red flags that showed the dramatic impact of sudden events.
Still, the BRICS are not going anywhere. Sure, they may face tough adjustments getting used to less lofty growth expectations while satisfying more demanding populations. But one way or another it's safe to say: These big emerging economies will put their stamp on the 21st century.
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