Sunday, April 13, 2008

Looking for the "next" Emerging Market

A 'Personal Finance columnist' in the Washington Post explores what she sees as the "next generation of markets" (H/T Paul Kedrosky). Her observations ignore why these countries are undeveloped in the first place. There are a few basic determinants for development (as paraphrased from Brink Lindsey's Against the Dead Hand):

  1. Stable government (of which democracies provide the most peaceful transitions and in which countries in civil war have none)
  2. Private property rights
  3. Free trade
  4. Availability of foreign investment
To assume that the countries she cites in the Middle East and Africa will result in growth simply as a result of time would be foolish. A better starting point would be to look at the Heritage Institute's Economic Freedom Index or the World Bank's Doing Business guides. While I think it's clear that there are some pretty interesting developments in a few specific countries, the dangers of investing in them should not be discounted as development at its core creates turbulence and therefore politically can result in a two steps forward, one step back type progress. On the other hand, it also seems pretty clear that some countries have only stepped back for the past few decades - Zimbabwe being an obvious case in point. If Zimbabwe and Venezuela prove anything at all, it is that countries do have a choice of whether or not to integrate with the world economy. With oil at a historical high, it is also dangerous to believe that this bonanza will go on forever.

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