Jim O’Neill interview: Why the Mints come after the Brics – by Sophie McBain (NewStatesman – January 23, 2914)


The economist Jim O’Neill, who coined the term “Bric countries” (referring to Brazil, Russia, India, China), now says that the term is now tired, and argues that immigration should be widely accepted as a good thing.

Thirteen years ago, Jim O’Neill, a chief economist at Goldman Sachs, coined the term “Brics” to describe the four countries he predicted would be among the next global economic giants: Brazil, Russia, India and China. The acronym caught on, to an extent that O’Neill describes as “flattering” – but he also feels “irritated” by having to defend his theory.

“Someone has just written a book called Broken Brics, and I’m just like, yawn,” he says, collapsing into his seat with feigned exhaustion. “If I dreamt it up again today, I’d probably just call it ‘C’,” he adds, perking up. “China’s one and a half times bigger than the rest of them put together.”

But O’Neill, now 56, is moving on, from both banking and the Brics. He left his role as chairman of Goldman Sachs in April 2013 after 18 years of working at the investment bank. Deciding that he couldn’t better his former role, he resolved to do something different. I’m meeting him at a private members’ club in central London to discuss his newest acronym, Mint, and the accompanying Radio 4 series.

“Mint” stands for Mexico, Indonesia, Nig­eria and Turkey: four countries that O’Neill forecasts could be among the ten largest economies in the next 30 years. It was originally Mist, with the S standing for South Korea – but the BBC convinced him that it would be better to include Nigeria. “It’s slightly embarrassing but also amusing that I kind of get acronyms decided for me,” he says. The four countries face very different challenges but are united by favourable demographics: they all have large and youthful populations. “That’s key. If you’ve got good demographics that makes things easy.”

It frustrates O’Neill that although people in the UK are quick to adopt his terminology, they struggle to accept his conclusions. The government has embarked on policies that he believes will hasten the country’s relative decline. “I worry that popularism will take us down the path of doing the wrong thing,” he says, referring to anti-immigration sentiment. “Most economists agree that immigration is basically a good thing, especially in terms of skilled immigrants. Chinese tourists spend six times more in Paris than they do in London, and one of the main reasons is that it’s so hard for them to get here. How on earth do we think we’re going to export to these places if we have that kind of attitude?”

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