At their meeting in Johannesburg, the BRICS bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa announced that six additional countries will join the group: Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Does this matter? Is this economically or financially significant? I doubt it. For me, the key attribute of this grouping is their general dislike of the US and Western liberal democracies (India is somewhat of an outlier). The selection of the countries chosen to join BRICS shows that the group has become even less democratic. By the Freedom House definition of democracy, which focuses in particular on political rights and civil liberties, the average freedom status of the old BRICS grouping was 52 out of 100, whereas the new grouping heavily favours undemocratic countries, or at least countries that are less free. By the Freedom House definition, the group now scores 38/100. The only new country which would be considered “free” is Argentina. This is an organisation which clearly does not value democracy, freedom and certainly not human rights.
There are other interesting aspects of the group: Why Ethiopia rather than Nigeria? Why so many countries from the Middle East (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE)? That also means six of the nine biggest oil producers will be part of the group, so we won’t expect a climate crisis lobby to emerge out of the group.
The Atlantic Council, an American-based international affairs non-governmental organisation (NGO), has analysed the correlation between freedom and prosperity. The plot chart below is interesting: not only are free countries wealthier, but the more free a country is, the more likely it is to be more wealthy.
Correlation between Freedom and Prosperity
Source: Atlantic Council, Daily Maverick
Of course, we can question such correlations for a host of reasons. As countries become wealthier, do they also become more free, or is it vice versa? Nevertheless, there is a relationship there, and it makes intuitive sense for it to be so.
Some would claim China is an exception, as it has a very low Freedom House score of 9/100 and yet has managed to go from a GDP per capita of $1,000 in 1990 to $12,000 today. China did become massively freer over that period, at least from an economic point of view. Markets now run much of China’s economy, even in places where communist dogma once reigned supreme. China is not so much an exception to the rule, but rather a demonstration of it.
For all the myriad problems we have in Western democracies, the BRICS are unlikely to provide us with a progressive path forward. And who will they invite to join next, North Korea or Zimbabwe?
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