Throwing BRICS: The Collapse of the Emerging MarketsJuly 8th, 2013 by Dean Foster | Discuss This »
Emerging markets were supposed to bring stability to an unstable world, or at least to the markets that were doing the emerging. But I recall the gnawing doubt I had about stability and emerging markets when the TV in my hotel in Shanghai went blank on a recent visit just as CNN was about to air a piece on a farmer’s revolt outside of Hong Kong. There is also the daily suppression of reactions to Putin’s authoritarian re-modeling of Russia, and, of course, the on-going Arab Spring. And now there are the citizen’s revolts in Turkey and Brazil. We are witnessing an emerging market ripple effect as people in these countries take to the streets to fight back against injustice and growing inequalities – problems that their economic emergence was supposed to stop from occurring. More often than not, these protests are sparked by one seemingly small incident that serves as the last straw; an outwardly minor event that becomes the symbol that crystallizes seething hidden unrest. If we look only at the final event, we’ll never understand the real nature of what is going on in the BRICs. However, with a deeper cultural dive, we can begin to uncover the cultural forces behind the apparent self-destruction of these countries.
The most recent country to take to the streets is Brazil. What began as a small protest about rising bus fares in São Paulo has since developed into large-scale protests over cost of living, corruption, bad public services, and the grandiose spending on the 2014 World Cup. As young Brazilians continue to take to the streets to combat the government there are the familiar cries of economic, social, and political injustice. The recent protests in Turkey began in a similar manner, with one small proposed change becoming a watershed moment for an unhappy population. In Turkey it wasn’t bus fares, it was plans for modernization to Istanbul’s Taksim Square that incited protest and led to riots across the country in a fight for freedom of press, of expression, and against modernization used as a tool to rid the country of its character. Protests in Tunisia and India began in similar ways with small moments breeding broader implications – in Tunisia it was the killing of a merchant, in India it was multiple rapes which led to protests over the nation’s institutionalized violence against women. Russia, another emerging market, has also seen protests – in their case ignited by Putin’s hardline reaction to envelope pushing by the rock band Pussy Riot. And then there is the decade-long and continuous repression of any democratization or reform movement in China.
Different countries, but startling similarities: rapid economic growth, without the cultural, social, and political institutions to equitably distribute the benefits of such growth has created hotbeds of dissatisfaction. With markets growing precipitously fast, little legitimate oversight, and distribution of wealth so deeply skewed, these countries suddenly face massive cultural change, causing violent dislocations within their people. Across these nations rural values are shifting to modern ones, religion and secular thought are coming into conflict with each other, and inevitable generational differences have become too big to bridge – all of this within countries that are fundamentally unstable, amid nascent social, economic, and political systems. We can chalk the clashes up to a few immediate events, or we can take a closer look at what these protestors are really asking for – freedom, civility, and control over the quickly changing future of their homelands. Culture, and the changes that it experiences as countries go through times of massive economic flux, can provide us with the answers to what is really going on, and subsequently point to possible solutions (solutions like political freedom, equitable economic opportunity, and social justice); or we can choose to see the throwing of the BRICs as nothing more than an immediate reaction to a one-time event. I’ll choose the cultural interpretation every time.