‘Growing Pains’: Poverty and Social Unrest In The BRICS Countries

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Statistics and graphs can paint funny demographics. They can also paint incredibly deceiving ones. They show a fact, and facts sometimes only show half the truth. This sentiment is not lost on the BRIC countries, by any stretch of the imagination.

When looking at statistics and graphs, one would see the BRIC countries as affluent and prosperous. The statistic that, in 2011, China was the estimated 2nd largest economy in front of Japan by $1.4 trillion, yet by 2017 is set to have a margin between them over 4 times the size [1], backs the aforementioned analysis. The fact that Brazil now boasts a larger economy than the UK legitimises the claim. [2]

But, with these facts come truths that cover up others. Yes, the BRIC countries have gone through their growth spurts, dismissing pitiful economic forecast projections in their wake, and turning into the big kids in class, with affluence obvious. But, if there are two diseases the BRIC countries all are wary of, then they are poverty and social unrest.

Poverty is rife in Brazil, Russia, India and China. As an issue, it is substantially graver in relative account to their economic rivals, such as European states. These are the ‘growing pains’ these countries face – their expansion of populous, their growth as an entity, has brought with it responsibility, manifesting itself in millions of starving citizens; Russia saw a 30% increase in impoverished citizens in a 2009 report alone. [3]

The irony of it all is that the ‘growing pains’ these countries feel are due to their unique style of economic structure, the one that makes them prosperous; in essence, their elixir is their kryptonite. To divulge, industry and agriculture overpower the service sector in all four nations, in comparison to America where the service sector nearly accounts for 4/5 of the American economic model. [4]

With heavy emphasis on agriculture and industry, tumultuous conditions can occur, none more so prominently than with famine in India. With 1 in 10 jobs accounted for by agriculture, sub-continental conditions can make life tough work. This isn’t wholly dissimilar to industry, where child employment is still a common feature in China and India. This means, much like the weather for farmers, exploitative industries and social stigmas can mar the prosperity, and health, of hundreds of thousands of children working within these BRIC countries, and for labour workers in general.

Of course, poverty in these countries is not solely down to their lack of service sector employment in relation to agriculture and industry, but the loose regulation that follow the latter two sectors allow the governments to turn a blind eye to exploitation that provides unjust ends for workers means. This means in countries such as China, where there is recent privatisation, the disconnection of government control and industry allows wealth to become centric at the head, and very soon the ‘affluence’ of these countries becomes visible in only but a minority ‘mega-rich’. [5]

The real problems of these social and economic set ups, if extreme inequality and poverty weren’t bad enough, are the social ramifications caused by the economic implications. To move away from the four main BRIC countries, the most recent addition to the ‘BRIC’ fold, South Africa, has shown how poor handling of economic circumstances can lead to dire social conclusions.

The South African Miner controversies resulted from strikes brought about by union disputes; arguments the government could have intervened in. The more the government regulate, the more they are able to stamp out grey areas of discussion that can turn into economic conflict.

Even with past regulation, the poverty problems stemming from the economic set ups of these countries can cause social aggravation – tensions over the caste system and India are manifestations of it, and even social situations such as the protests over the ‘Pussy Riot’ jailing can be a gateway for political scrutiny.

In conclusion, some points need recognition; not all social tension and poverty derive from the economic systems in place in the BRIC countries. Similarly, the BRIC countries, for all their problems with poverty, social immobility and inequality (China recently became closer to complete inequality than America), the BRIC countries, despite centralised wealth and power, have shown huge growth in personal affluence among their citizens, and social living standards have increased. However, the adage rings true; these points neglect others.

When analysing the nature of the state, a scholar by the name of Stein Rokkan identified what he believed to be the natural progression of states: after the initial set up of a state, national unification and the introduction of mass democracies, there is a welfare state built to further increase living standards – in general it leads to a rise in liberal values. There was insinuation that, although there are other routes to the modern state, straying from this progression would be tumultuous. [6]

The four BRIC countries are all at a crucial point in their progression. As previously mentioned, they have seen periods of mass growth, economically and populous wise. Now though, they all face periods of state maturity – what separates them, particularly Russia and China, is the lack of democratic procedure, and in general liberal society.

To disassemble the social and economic problems facing these countries, more socially inclusive and equality based measures within industry must be ensured to first stop the growing problem of poverty and urban-rural divide, and then to deconstruct the social barriers that ensure the concentration of wealth to a minority. The reason these measures must be taken is that, if not, there will be more cases of social unrest. This causes economic disruption, and with even the smallest economic country in the BRICs controlling one of the top 10 economies in the world, the largest the 2nd only to the USA, any disruptions will affect our lives far greater than the simple scheduling of news stories.

Article by Simon Renwick. Edited by Nathan Tanswell.

Further Reading

[1] http://money.cnn.com/news/economy/world_economies_gdp/

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17272716

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/31/russia-economy-poverty-increase-putin

[4] http://www.economywatch.com/economies-in-top/?page=full

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13945072

[6] Newton, K. Van Deth, J. W. Foundations of Comparative Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2008)