This year, the Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro. I do not know how many records we are going to witness. What I already know is that the same year Brazil, along with the other so-called BRIC countries (an acronym that stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China), is going to be the protagonist of what will possibly be the most striking overtaking in economic history. After a run-up that lasted little over two decades, these countries will exceed what we once called the West – the United States and the European Union – as an overall economic power.
In 1994 the ratio between the two blocs, in terms of global wealth production, was 45 to 17. In 2016, each one of them will reach the 32 percent threshold, but during this year, BRIC will rise further. Therefore, Europe and the US, which together accounted for little less than the global GDP, today go below a third of it. Over the same two decades, Brazil, Russia, India and China have doubled their weight.
Sooner or later it had to happen. “When China awakes…” Napoleon prophesied. And even today the prospect of a new world order, in which demography and geography would have exploded all their potential, was widely expected. What we expected less – if we expected it at all – is the speed at which this change is happening. Only two years have passed and here comes the overtaking, thanks to the great crisis that struck the U.S. over the past years. A crisis that was later felt even more intensely in Europe.
To sum up, the West is no longer the “first world”, to use an expression of the last century. And what is worse, it was greatly unprepared for this historical caesura. Now it can have two possible reactions. It can deny reality, claiming its political leadership and play down the incidence numbers have on it. It may think that deep down, for the generations to which I belong, it is not particularly significant because the amount of hay in the barn does not involve a substantial and inevitable course corrections. It may, superstitiously, wish some misfortune to the competitors or simply to know that, westernization will infect them with the same decadence, so they finally stop rushing. It slightly reminds on the maneuvers of the last Roman emperors before the fall of Byzantium.
I could go on. The shades of inertia are multiple. If, however, we prefer a reasonably proactive reaction, the first thing to do is admit – with regard to BRIC – that there are complex, modern systems that are different one from another and closely interconnected with the United States and Europe. The West itself, to be honest, is no longer what it used to be. In the sense that even this category of the past proves to be insufficient and incomplete in a scenario where things are evolving so quickly, such as the world we live in.
Let us try, then, to change our point of view. Today everything is global or has a global impact, also finance and monetary issues, as we all know. Climate change, international trade, and migration. All areas or phenomena that have a very strong impact on people’s lives and which cannot be handled only on a local, national level. Besides, there are other issues that, on paper, are the prerogative of traditional state sovereignty, such as taxation, work or training, but even these can be handled as if every single country were an isolated monad.
To explain it with a few simple examples, if outside our boundaries tax burden is perceived as excessive, a foreign company willing to invest or relocate will do it elsewhere, where it is more convenient. If there is little meritocracy in the university system and if we do not speak English, the brilliant young student coming from a non-Western country will choose a different university were to be formed or specialized. Similarly, a talented student will decide – perhaps reluctantly – to emigrate in order to pursue fulfillment opportunities that will suit his/her dreams. It is simply common sense, a way of thinking that has always worked. Yet, today, in a context of markedly universal interconnections, it works even better.
Taken from Going Together, Going Far