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Post-9/11, the Brics rise

As his global teleconference broke up in disarray on September 11, a top economist at an American investment bank began to ponder what the attacks on the US might tell him about the future shape of the world. His conclusions had little to do with al Qaeda.

world Updated: Sep 13, 2011 00:34 IST

As his global teleconference broke up in disarray on September 11, a top economist at an American investment bank began to ponder what the attacks on the US might tell him about the future shape of the world. His conclusions had little to do with al Qaeda.

Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs had been at a meeting in the World Trade Centre only two days before, and flew home to London just hours before airliners slammed into New York's twin towers. About to become head of the bank's global economics team, he was looking for a "big idea" to put a stamp on his leadership.

Soon, he had it: the decade after September 11, 2001, would be defined not by the world's sole superpower or the war on terror, but by the rise of the four biggest emerging market economies — China, Russia, India and Brazil. O'Neill nicknamed them the "BRICs" after the first letter of their names.

"I'll never forget that day," O'Neill said. "It was right at the core of how I dreamt up the whole thing... Something clicked in my head that the lasting consequence of 9/11 had to be the end of American dominance of globalisation..." O'Neill, who now heads Goldman's global asset management business, launched the BRIC phrase in a pamphlet published in November 2001.

Ten years later, the BRICs have grown faster and constitute nearly 20% of the global economy. China is the world's number two economic power. India and Russia are not far behind. Post-9/11, the US had launched a costly and attention-sapping global "war on terror" and was plotting retaliation against not just al Qaeda but also other members of what it saw as a wider "axis of evil".

And the US appear to have won. The al Qaeda network is badly damaged and the group has not pulled off a major terror strike in the West for years.