The BRICs and the power of the acronym

My column published earlier today asked why Mexico is the “missing BRIC”? I considered all sorts of serious explanations – from the drugs war to Mexican reliance on the US market. But there is a simpler explanation, perhaps Mexico is the unwitting victim of the power of the acronym.

The term BRICs refers to Brazil, Russia, India and China and was dreamed up by Jim O’Neill, the chief economist at Goldman Sachs in 2001. Many people have wondered why O’Neill came up with this particular combination of countries. India and China are obvious, of course. But back in 2001, some questioned the nomination of Brazil (fewer do so now) – and the inclusion of Russia, with its declining population and oil dependence, remains controversial. So why did O’Neill do it? I’m sure there are impeccable economic reasons. But might it also have something to do with the lure of a great acronym?

Consider, what if O’Neill had decided to include Mexico in his line-up – which given Nafta and the size of the Mexican economy, might have been justified? It would certainly have messed up the acronym. BRIMCs just doesn’t have that ring to it. My colleague Lorien Kite points out that, if he had decided to drop Brazil and replace it with Mexico, O’Neill could have come up with the acronym – CRIMs. But given the power of organised crime in Mexico, Russia and India – I think that acronym might have sat a little uncomfortably.

There is no doubt that Brazil and Russia have benefited hugely, in marketing terms, from being BRICs. But it is not always great to be part of a snappy acronym. Consider the fate of the PIGS – the countries that are regarded as the weakest links in the euro-zone. They are Portugal, Greece and Spain – with Ireland and Italy battling it out to avoid the dishonour of accounting for the “I” in the acronym. (Actually, I think it’s the Irish who were the original I – although given their budget austerity and Italy’s laxness, they may soon be displaced.)

There are, of course, other weak links in the European Union – but they don’t somehow make up a suitably destructive acronym. This summer, everybody was worrying about the fate of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – but the three countries were still referred to by the relatively dignified title of “the Baltic states”. Lucky it’s not Ostonia, or they would definitely have been referred to as LOL. (Teen-speak for “laugh out loud”)