BRICs versus CIVETS
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The acronym BRIC—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—coined by the Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill (2001) is now a widely accepted and understood term. The justification for such a grouping is clear, as the BRICs are comparable in terms of territory, population, GDP, stock markets, and sociopolitical factors (see Table 1). The acronym CIVETS—Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa—was conceived in 2009 by Robert Ward, director of global forecasting for the Economist Intelligence Unit (see Economist 2009), and popularized by Michael Geoghegan (2010), group chief executive of HSBC Holdings plc, shortly after. As the newer term makes its way into the investment lexicon, we need to ask whether these six countries merit such a grouping.
Table 1: Demographics and Economics of BRIC Countries, with USA and Indonesia for Comparison
THE BRICKS: A CLASS APART
Variant spellings of BRIC (BRICK and BRICS) were not accidental: earlier versions included South Korea, which fit into this group based on several characteristics (including GDP and market cap), and South Africa. The four countries in the current grouping have sociopolitical and historic commonalities in addition to economic ones, making BRIC a well-defined category rather than a purely convenient classification. Russia, India, and China possess significant hard power, nuclear weapons, large armed forces (one million or more active soldiers), and sophisticated intelligence establishments; they are not particularly reluctant to use their military power to further their political goals, and can be considered hegemons in their respective regions (see Table 2). All four BRICs have active space programs.
Table 2: Military Potential of BRICs and Other Select Countries
Source: Military Balance, 2010, IISS, London. Note: Count is approximate. For instance, US Naval Aviation is the second airforce in the world in its own right and Russian Naval Aviation would be 3-4 airforce in Europe.
All BRICs share a relatively recent agrarian past. Even the most European of them, Russia, had 80-85% of its population toiling on the land on the eve of the twentieth century. All have an extensive history of extra-economic exploitation: existed in Russia until 1861 (two years before the abolition of slavery emancipation of slaves in the US) and slavery in Brazil persisted until 1888. While slavery in India’s and China’s recent history was relatively limited, in practice poor villagers in China and lower castes in India led a slave-like existence until well into the mid-twentieth century.
All four were ruled undemocratically in the past or experimented with autarchic economic models. India and Brazil were colonies of European powers; China led a semi-colonial existence from the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century to the founding of the Communist-led People’s Republic of China in 1949, when a closed economic policy was implemented. Russian Empire, similarly to Austro-Hungary and much more progressive German Empire, ruling much of the Eastern Europe retained many features of the ancien regime till their common demise in 1917-1918. Between 1917 and 1991 Russia-led USSR was the centre of the world Communism.
South Korea (ROK) shares some BRIC characteristics: a large army, fairly recent agrarian poverty, and colonial occupation (in South Korea’s case, by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945). There is another similarity: Russia, India, China, and South Korea—and to a lesser degree, Brazil—all have sizeable domestic scientific-technical establishments, and they produce and develop much of their technology internally, at least in the military-industrial sphere. Brazil has technological powerhouses—e.g., Embraer, a manufacturer and service provider that competes successfully with the American companies Cessna and Gulfstream and the Canadian firm Bombardier in the rapidly expanding market of small, midsize, and executive jets. Yet, most of Brazil’s technologies are purchased or are licensed versions of Western designs.
On the opposite side of the technological spectrum is Russia, the world’s second largest exporter of military hardware (after the US) and a leader in space exploration and nonmilitary uses of nuclear power. Outside of these sectors, however, its technological exports are limited. China, in contrast, successfully markets its blend of Western-designed and domestic technologies across a wide spectrum of consumer goods (electronic components and devices, automobiles and parts, etc.). China and India also buy sophisticated military equipment from Russia and Western Europe, but now aim at technology-sharing agreements and co-production.
Levels of socioeconomic development within the BRICs are broadly comparable along two lines. Brazil and Russia have a relatively high penetration of consumer durables and media items such as automobiles, refrigerators, newspapers, and TV channels, but relatively low life expectancy (73 and 66 years, respectively [Central Intelligence Agency, “Life Expectancy at Birth,” 2011]). China and India have similar life expectancy (75 and 67 years, respectively [Central Intelligence Agency, “Life Expectancy at Birth,” 2011]). Despite having high longevity relative to their per capita GDP India and China have a much lower penetration of consumer durables and amenities such as running water and indoor plumbing (Tables 3 and 4). The infant mortality rate (out of 1,000 live births) is 10 in Russia, 16 in China, 21 in Brazil, and 48 in India (Central Intelligence Agency, “Infant Mortality Rate,” 2011).
Table 3: Possession of Household Durables in BRICs and Select Countries
Source: International Marketing Data and Statistics, 2009; Euromonitor Intl., London, UK.
THE CIVETS: TOO SIMILAR TO OTHERS
One obvious feature shared by all of the CIVETS, but also by India, Russia, and Mexico, is a volatile internal political situation, with recurrent political and criminal violence and military repression. This repression is not always gratuitous and reflective merely of the desire of the ruling groups to stay in power: Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt and Indonesia, and drug gangs in Colombia and Mexico constitute genuine threats to the stability and prosperity of the countries. Obviously, recent events in Egypt make any predictions of the economic policies of the country futile. As a rule, more representative governments in underdeveloped countries pursue populist and anti-market economic policies. Furthermore, the now-ruling Egyptian military establishment (similarly to China) is a significant industrial player in its own right and would not benefit from more openness.
Unlike the BRICs, which have many characteristics unique to themselves, CIVETS are typical of the developing world, with relatively low literacy, high child mortality, extreme disparities between rich and poor, and a high proportion of the population engaged in agriculture. The BRICs all have distinctly and proudly nationalistic foreign policies that are outspokenly defended by their elites in international forums, while the CIVETS frequently vacillate between outright submission to foreign interests and nationalistic backlash—also a common developing-world pattern.
In short, while there is a strong case for singling out the BRICs (or BRICKs) as an exclusive category, a similar grouping of countries identified by the term CIVETS is quite artificial. These countries are simply large countries lingering on the border between the developing world and middle-income countries, where one could also find Mexico, Venezuela, the Philippines, Thailand, Argentina, Chile, Peru and a number of others. In fact, starting this paper, I was not sure whether ‘V’ in CIVETS meant Vietnam or Venezuela, or ‘T’—Turkey or Thailand and on what grounds. Further proof of comparable trajectories of development is needed before the CIVETS can establish themselves as a distinct group of emerging-market runner-ups.
Central Intelligence Agency. 2011. “Infant Mortality Rate.” The World Factbook.
Central Intelligence Agency. 2011. “Life Expectancy at Birth.” The World Factbook.
Economist. November 26, 2009. “BRICs and BICIs.” The World in 2010.
Geoghegan, Michael. April 27, 2010. “From West to East.” Speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. HSBC.
Moon, D., "Estimating the peasant population of late Imperial Russia from 1897 census." Europe-Asia Studies, 48(1), 141-153, 1996.
O’Neill, Jim. November 30, 2001. “Building Better Global Economic BRICs.” Global Economics Paper, no. 66. Goldman Sachs.
–Peter Lerner, PhD, MBA is a semi-retired financial researcher who lives in Ithaca, NY. Currently, he teaches International Financial Management in Rollins College, FL.