As leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa meet on Hainan Island this week, one thing is pretty certain: from their origins in a 2001 paper by Goldman Sachs’ Jim O’Neill, the Bric nations (all of the above barring South Africa, which joins the grouping this year) have come a fair way. And they could go yet further: A study by a Chinese think tank said last week that by 2015, the four would jointly account for 22% of the global gross domestic product, and surpass the US with their combined output.
The rise of these countries is also symbolic. Situated in the Second and Third Worlds, they were at the margins of the global map even two decades ago. Alfred Sauvy, who coined the term Third World, once wrote: “Like the third estate, the Third World is nothing, and wants to be something.” The coming years may well see that come true.