It was always a lie.
If that wasn't obvious before, it should be now. Consider this: Brazil is stuck in its worst recession since the 1930s, but still has double-digit inflation. That's what happens when your debt bubble and the global commodities bubble burst at the same time that your sinking currency sends prices soaring from their already elevated levels. And its government hasn't even been able to do anything about this, because it's collapsing itself due to a slow-motion corruption scandal.
Then there's Russia. It never had an economy so much as an oil-exporting business that subsidized everything else, so it's also shrinking now that oil prices have fallen so far -- which, of course, Western sanctions have only made worse. Now, India is actually doing pretty well, but it's still struggling to streamline its regulations and build enough infrastructure so that it can grow as much as it could. And China might be growing fast compared to almost any other country, but not to its own lofty standards. Money is pouring out now that China's economy is starting to slow down under the weight of having built more factories than it needs and borrowed more money than it wants. That's made its stock market crash, and would have made its currency do so as well if the government's wasn't spending so much to prop it up.
But it's not just that it doesn't make sense to talk about the BRICs any more. It's that it never made sense to talk about the BRICs. The only thing that ever mattered was the "C". The problem, though, is that that doesn't make for a catchy acronym. You can see what I mean in the chart below. It shows how much each country's GDP per capita has changed as a share of the United States' since the end of the Cold War, adjusted for how much things cost in each nation. The idea is that these countries should be growing faster than the U.S., so that they start to catch up. But that's not what has happened—at least not for all of them. Indeed, Russia's incomes have gone from 42.1 percent of those in the U.S. in 1992 to 41.3 percent today; Brazil's have done about as bad, going from 27.6 percent to 27 percent; India's have been a little better, going from 5 percent to 11.5 percent; and only China's have made up a lot of ground by going from 4.9 percent to 26.3 percent.
In other words, Brazil and Russia have actually fallen further behind the U.S., India has caught up a little bit, and China really has. Maybe the best way to tell that is this: China was a little poorer than India in 1992, but is now more than twice as rich.
And now you can see why China's slowdown is such a big deal. It was growing so fast that it was pulling the rest of the developing world with it. That's what the commodities bubble was. China, you see, was building so many roads and bridges and factories that it had an almost insatiable appetite for raw materials—which boosted Brazil and Russia's commodity-driven economies. So now that China is gearing down from mega-growth to merely very fast growth, those other economies are gearing down as well. Except in their case, that means going from good growth to none at all, or even negative growth.
Maybe the next big acronym should be C-H-I-N-A.