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Throwing BRICs

Emerging countries want a bigger say in running the world. Can you blame them?

Laborers transport coal bricks on the outskirts of Xining in northwestern China's Qinghai province Dec. 24, 2006. (Simon Zo/Reuters)

BOSTON — The BRICs are growing restless.

For those of you who aren't globalization nerds, here's a quick primer:

The word "BRIC" has assumed almost mythical status since 2001, when Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill penned a research paper titled "Building Better Economic BRICs."

In it, O'Neill coined the term, arguing that by 2050 the combined economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (get it?) could eclipse the total economic output of the world's richest countries.

The bet was that these fast-growing, rapidly liberalizing places — which make up 40 percent of the world's population and a quarter of the the planet's land mass — would rule the future.

How? China and India would provide manufacturing and services, while Brazil and Russia would offer up the necessary raw materials.

The BRIC thesis has been challenged (and defended) ever since, but by and large it's been accepted by giant corporations and intrepid entrepreneurs alike. You can't shake a stick in China without smacking some corn-fed Midwesterner lost in the hutongs of Beijing, and it's hard to miss all those green-faced U.S. executives fighting off Delhi Belly.

But the BRIC mythology wasn't only a hit with Corporate America. It also resonated with savvy investors looking to make a fortune from this newly emerging economic order. Indeed, from 2001 to 2007, Russia's stock market rose 630 percent, India's surged 500 percent, Brazil's gained 370 percent and China's jumped 200 percent.

So despite the ongoing global financial crisis — which, to be sure, has damaged these high-flyers too — the BRICs have most definitely arrived. And, yes, they are here to stay.

That point has been reinforced again and again in recent days and weeks. And one thing is clear whether it's spoken in Mandarin, Russian, Hindi or Portuguese: the BRICs want a bigger say in how to manage the global economy.

Two weeks ago at the G20 finance minister's meeting in Horsham, England the BRIC countries — for the first time — released their own communique on how the global economic crisis should be managed. In it, they called for a bigger voice.

Then in what felt like a very public smackdown, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had this to say about Washington's profligate spending:

“We are very concerned about the economic developments in the U.S. economy. We have lent a huge amount of money to the United States and of course we’re concerned about the security of our assets and, to be honest, I am a little bit worried."

And this week China's Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan called on the International Monetary Fund to create a new "super-sovereign reserve currency," presumably to displace the dollar's key role.

Meanwhile, Russia's prime minister Vladamir Putin has long criticized U.S. dominance in economic (and political) affairs.

Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva complains loudly that the international system is skewed towards the U.S. He has pushed for a U.N. Security Council seat for Brazil.