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Building blocks for equitable growth: lessons from the BRICS

Working papers

Written by Kate Bird

Five key emerging market economies, commonly termed the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), have been lauded for their stellar economic growth and resilience through the 2008/09 financial crisis.

They are becoming models of development for development practitioners, researchers and other emerging economies. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you will notice that not all people in these countries have benefited equally from growth. Some countries have seen enormous increases in income inequality – specifically China, India and South Africa; Brazil has enjoyed a reduction.

What can be learnt, in terms of the challenges and successes of reconciling growth and equity, from the BRICS’ recent growth? This paper examines the experiences of four of the BRICS – Brazil, China, India and South Africa – and identifies four key factors shaping the countries’ pattern of growth:

  1. Access to assets, above all skills, enables people to participate in activities that generate income; in agrarian societies, access to land is critical.
  2. Investment in productive activities that generate jobs and opportunities for the majority.
  3. Social transfers to guarantee minimum incomes to those who cannot work or cannot find work.
  4. A political-economic context that has inclusion as a priority.
Milo Vandemoortele, Kate Bird, Andries Du Toit, Minquan Liu, Kunal Sen and Fábio Veras Soares