On a panel I joined at Cass Business School about the future of emerging economies, the most ubiquitous of them, the BRICs, dominated discussion:
how these markets compare, how they are performing, which one should be kicked out of the club (Russia getting the most votes) and which others are worthy of expanding the four-letter club, or getting together and starting their own acronyms.
The father of the term himself, Jim O’Neill, head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs, was on the panel. He argued, perhaps not surprisingly, in favour of keeping all the letters intact, explaining that his wife now goes by the name Mrs BRIC. There was chatter as well, and some humour, over whether the new group of emerging economies now being talked about was in fact the ‘Next Eleven’ or the ‘Second Eleven’, and what the membership list should entail.
The BRICs and the Elevenses, of course, have other company in the economics name-game. There has been heated talk – and a backlash – over the pejorative and not entirely inoffensive PIGS tag to describe the debt-laden eurozone economies of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (a term Barclays Capital invented and later banned).
Meanwhile, the CEO of HSBC – since there are not enough acronyms or abbreviations in his job title or his company name – added to the mix by promoting the idea of the ‘CIVETS’, Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa . During the panel discussion, I suggested yet another
One to describe the racier of the frontier economies: the ‘PUMP’ countries (Places Upsetting My Parents when I travel there), like Iraq, the subject of our special report published with this issue. Iran, where fDi deputy editor Spencer Anderson reported from this summer , would also make the list, although it is already signed up to the Elevenses squad.
And here’s where the alphabet soup gets somewhat clouded. Groupings can become arbitrary and utilitarian (a good acronym needs a vowel, for example, to make it pronounceable) and can lead to one-upsmanship (to take it to the next level, why not make the next one an onomatopoeia?). They can also be too fixed, once they have caught on, and outlast their usefulness.
But who are we to judge? The name of our magazine is an abbreviation, after all.