Voice

Brazil's new swagger

As of today, David Rothkopf’s blog will be replaced by a weekly column. For the next few weeks, his column will also appear in this space.

While America's halting path toward accepting the world's new multipolar reality involves a step backward for every step forward, an exceptionalist violation of sovereignty for every bit of teamwork in places like Libya, other countries are actively working to establish new rules for all nations to follow in the new era.

Among those at the forefront of this effort are Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her highly regarded foreign minister, Antonio Patriota. He was in New York last week to advance this effort at the United Nations, and we sat down for lunch together.

The challenge facing Rousseff and Patriota as public servants is a daunting one. Each follows in the footsteps of a formidable predecessor. Admittedly, Rousseff's challenge is much greater and indeed, to many, seems almost insurmountable. She succeeds two presidents who were arguably the most important in her country's modern history, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is credited with stabilizing the country's economy after years of volatility, and her immediate predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, not only her mentor but one of a tiny handful of the world's most important leaders of the past decade. But Patriota's predecessor, Celso Amorim, was also formidable, extremely influential, and a fixture on the Brazilian and international scenes. The bar was set high for her entire administration.

Nonetheless, after over a year in office, despite facing great domestic and international challenges, Rousseff has already earned a higher popularity rating than did Lula at a similar point in his tenure. And Patriota is quietly and, in the eyes of close observers, with great deftness, building on Amorim's groundbreaking work to establish Brazil as a leader among the world's major powers.

"We have a great advantage," notes Patriota. "We have no real enemies, no battles on our borders, no great historical or contemporary rivals among the ranks of the other important powers … and long-standing ties with many of the world's emerging and developed nations." This is a status enjoyed by none of the other BRICs -- China, India, and Russia -- nor, for that matter, by any of the world's traditional major powers.

This unusual position is strengthened further by the fact that Brazil is not investing as heavily as other rising powers in military capabilities. Indeed, as Tom Shannon, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, has noted, the country is one of the few to effectively stake its future on the wise application of soft power -- diplomacy, economic leverage, common interests. It's surely no coincidence that, in areas from climate change to trade, from nonproliferation to development, Brazil under Lula and Amorim and under Rousseff and Patriota has been gaining strength by translating steady growth at home and active diplomacy abroad into effective international networks.

But Rousseff's administration is also breaking with the past. Whereas Cardoso and Lula achieved greatness by addressing and solving some of the most bedeviling problems of Brazil's past, from stabilizing the economy to addressing social inequality, Rousseff, while still cognizant of the work that remains to be done, has also turned her attention to creating opportunities and a clear path forward for Brazil's future. From her focus on education to her commitment to science and technology through innovative programs like "Science Without Borders," she is doing something that no Latin American leader has done before but that has been a proven formula in Asia. She is committed to moving Brazil from being a resource-based and thus dependent (which is to say vulnerable) economy to one that counts more for future growth on value-added industries, research and development, and educating more scientists and engineers.

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PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images

The List

Supercitizens and Semistates

The global elites that really run the world.

The world is run today by what I call supercitizens -- super-empowered global elites that straddle borders, move markets, and make or break politicians. What makes a supercitizen different from you and me? With apologies to Mitt Romney, they're not actually people; they're entities designed much like comic book superheroes to have remarkable powers. To begin with, they're immortal (having the ability to survive the demise of their owners was one reason companies were first created). They operate globally, their scant national ties affording them great flexibility, mobility, and leverage. And of course, they're made super by virtue of their size: Their resources and influence vastly outstrip those of individual citizens and often entire countries.

In other words, the world's corporate behemoths really do enjoy powers greater than all but the biggest countries. There are plenty of critics who love to poke holes in flawed comparisons such as those between national GDPs and corporate annual sales, but no matter: There's a wealth of evidence to show just how vast their reach is. Here are just a few examples.

 

How the top companies on Forbes magazine's Global 2000 list stack up against some of the world's countries.

JPMorgan Chase
» $2.3 trillion: assets of JPMorgan Chase
» $812 billion: reserves of foreign exchange and gold held by the European Union

 

HBSC
» Has around 7,500 offices in 87 countries and territories across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, more than the number of Austrian embassies (83).
» Has 300,000 employees around the world, more than Germany's number of active military troops (250,000).

 

General Electric
» Spent $26 million lobbying the U.S. government in 2011, more than Anguilla's budget expenditures ($23 million).

» Has 287,000 employees, more than Croatia's number of government employees (278,000).

 

ExxonMobil
» Produces 2.4 million barrels a day of crude oil and natural gas liquids, more than the 2.2 million barrels produced in the European Union.

 

Royal Dutch Shell
» Controls 49 billion cubic feet of worldwide natural gas reserves, more than the combined state-owned reserves of Oman and Dubai (totaling 34 billion cubic feet).

» Emits 85 million metric tons of CO2 each year, more than Chile (73 million).

 PetroChina

» $321 billion: the market capitalization of PetroChina, more than the GDPs of all but 40 countries
» $21.2 billion: PetroChina's 2011 profits, more than Belarus's budget expenditures ($20 billion)

 

 

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
» Has $1.7 trillion in assets, more than the foreign exchange reserves of any country except China.

» Made profits of $18.8 billion in 2011, more than Syria's budget expenditures ($18.3 billion).

 

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway
» Has annual sales of $136 billion, bigger than Hungary's GDP ($129 billion).

» Made profits of $13 billion in 2011, more than Panama's budget expenditures ($8.7 billion).

 

Petrobras
» Produces 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, more than Angola (1.9 million).

» Emits 63 million metric tons of CO2 each year, more than Finland (57 million).

 

Citigroup
» Manages the accounts of 200 million customers, more than the populations of all but five countries (China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil).

» Does business in more than 140 countries, more than Italy has embassies (123).

 

 
BNP Paribas

 

» Has $2.7 trillion in assets, more than France's foreign exchange reserves ($172 billion).

» Made profits of $10.5 billion in 2011, more than Iceland's budget expenditures ($6.9 billion).

 

Wells Fargo

» Employs 272,000 people, more than the populations of New Caledonia (256,000), Vanuatu (225,000), or Samoa (193,000).

» Made profits of $12.4 billion in 2011, more than Yemen's budget expenditures ($9 billion).

 

Banco Santander
» Had sales of $110 billion in 2011, more than Iran's budget expenditures ($92 billion).

» Had profits of $12 billion in 2011, more than Costa Rica's budget expenditures ($8 billion).

 


At&T
» Spent $20 million lobbying the U.S. government in 2011, more than the annual military budgets of Laos ($19.7 million) or Moldova ($19 million).

» Made profits of $19.9 billion in 2011, more than Uruguay's budget expenditures ($14.7 billion).


 Gazprom
» Has annual sales of $99 billion, more than Ethiopia's GDP ($95 billion).

» Emits 131 million metric tons of CO2 each year, more than the Czech Republic (117 million).