What doesn’t kill emerging markets makes them stronger … right?

Ian Bremmer

Isn't it nice to finally emerge from the last four years of financial crisis? Oh, you didn't notice? Are all the pundits' discussions of fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings and deficit emergencies making you think we're still in the midst of a never-ending crisis?

Well, they're wrong. We've spent the last four years so conditioned to crisis—the banks are imploding! The dollar is ending! The double-dip recession is coming!—that now, away from crisis, we're still feeding off it. But note that few of the apocalyptic scenarios came true. The United States didn't nationalise its banking sector, the primacy of the dollar is unquestioned, and it was England, not the States, that returned to recession. Granted, America did "suffer" a debt downgrade, but that didn't lead to disaster: It sent investors scrambling into the safest trade they knew—US treasuries.

These doomsday scenarios didn't play out as predicted because the United States is actually much more stable than it initially seemed. But the countries leading the world's growth— emerging markets such as China, India, South Africa, etc—are far less stable. These are the countries we should be worried about, not our own. Emerging markets make up two-thirds of the world's economic growth, but they're countries in which the politics matter as much as the economics. One revolution, one coup, or one sanction can turn growth into risk. This is the precarious global economy in which we now live.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb might call these emerging markets brittle. In his new, insightful book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Taleb outlines a different spectrum by which to judge whether an institution is hearty or not.

How a country (or company, or organisation, etc) responds to crisis is what really matters.

In 2013, the defining characteristic of health isn't growth, but antifragility.

"Wind extinguishes a candle and energises fire," Taleb writes in his prologue. "You want to be the fire and wish for the wind." Can emerging markets not just withstand crisis, but use it to change for the better? Can they withstand it at all? Mass protests continue in China about the country's draconian stance on the free-flow of information, most recently stoked by censorship in the Southern Weekly paper. India has been convulsed by a national conversation over women's rights after a brutal gang rape in December. South Africa's union members are enraged after police opened fire on striking miners in 2012.

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