The Case Against “BRICS”

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma attends the BRICS summit in Durban on March 27, 2013.

Photo by ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating writes on the occasion of the latest BRICS summit that the BRICS concept is dumb since these countries  “are a pretty disparate group in terms of culture, geography, economy, and political regime.”

I agree. The first and only clue anyone should have needed to see how analytically useless “BRICS” is as a concept is to ask what it stands for. Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O’Neil first devised it to mean Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Then the BRICs liked the idea so much that they formed an official club. Later they invited South Africa so the BRICs became BRICS. Get it? This whole thing violates the whole point of acronyms. “NATO” stands for “North Atlantic Treaty Organization”—i.e., it’s an organization of countries that have signed the North Atlantic Treaty—which means that when new countries sign the treaty, they join the organization. Consequently NATO and NATO membership have some conceptual content that is independent of whatever group of countries happens to be in it at any given time. Finland could join NATO or Norway could leave and NATO would still be NATO.

The BRICs, by contrast, was always just lumping a bunch of countries together. The phrase “large developing countries” more or less captures the general idea and “Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa” exactly captures the specific idea.