Categorizing countries has been a recurrent phenomenon since the creation of the major international organizations after 1945, in particular regarding their economic situation. The term “emerging countries” is one of the latest additions to a long list.

Beside the broad categories of developed and developing countries, the list of terms includes: industrialized and newly industrialized, least developed or least advanced countries, small and vulnerable economies or economies in transition. The expression “emerging countries” was first coined in the early 1990s as part of the widespread euphoria about the spreading of economic and financial liberalization policies in the developing world. In the words of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “emerging markets are typically countries with low to middle per capita income that have undertaken economic development and reform programs and have begun to ‘emerge’ as significant players in the global economy.”

But, as the IMF acknowledges, “there are many ways to categories countries as emerging markets.” As one could expect then, the World Bank uses a different categorization, as do major financial actors through their various emerging market indices. From this perspective, it is quite surprising that there is still a strong overlap in the lists produced by the various organizations or actors.

Indeed, based on the IMF World Economic Outlook 2012, the World Bank Global Development Finance Report 2013, and Morgan Stanley Emerging Market Index, the following countries are listed as emerging countries by more than one of the three sources: Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam.

This list raises a few big questions, however. Referring back to the major elements mentioned in the IMF definition, the first issue is the importance given to the criterion of “low to middle per capita income.” Its strict application should clearly eliminate from the list Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, as well as the Czech Republic, and arguably also Estonia, the Slovak Republic and Hungary. The next issue is about the interpretation of “significant players in the world economy.” For instance, it is hard to make a case along this line for Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania, short of counting them within the EU block. It is also difficult to consider Tunisia and Morocco along this criterion. The inclusion of these two groups of countries relies evidently on the criteria of economic reforms, in particular given that these reforms are credibly locked in domestic societies through EU membership or through strong authoritarian regimes.

We are therefore left with the following countries that do seem to match all the criteria of the “market-oriented reforms,” “low to middle income,” and “significant players in the world economy”: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. Given the wide disparity in the resources, population, political system and economic potential of those countries, the added value of the categorization of emerging markets is an open question. The concept may disappear as quickly as it rose to prominence.

Market participants seem already to have switched to the more catchy acronyms of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), or “BRIMSC” (adding Mexico) that encompass the five or six countries with the potential of not simply being significant but also dominant forces in the world economy by 2050. Today collectively dwarfed by the G7 countries, with only China being individually bigger than some of the G7 countries, the “BRICS” could, if everything goes politically and economically right, collectively overtake the G7 around 2040, with China becoming the largest economy and India the third largest.

Whereas this major power shift is still a far distant perspective, the current weight of BRICS on the world economy is significant: They rose from 11% of global GDP in 1990 to 21% in 2013 and are poised to reach 35% by 2050, represent almost 20% of global trade, possess more than 30% of foreign-exchange reserves, attract close to 20% of world FDI and account for more than 30% of world oil demand (source: World Bank).

As a consequence, BRICS countries have gained prominence in major international economic organizations. India and Brazil now play an important role in the Doha Round of negotiations at the WTO. They form with the U.S. and the EU the G4 group that replaced the old Quad (U.S., EU, Japan and Canada) as the key forum for sealing package deals. In the IMF, China obtained in 2013 an increase of its quota and hence voting rights and is now part of an informal G5 study group on global imbalances. These should be the premises of important changes in world politics in the coming decades.

Richard Rousseau is Associate Professor at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. His research, teaching and consulting interests include Russian politics, Eurasian geopolitics, international political economy and globalization.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Richard Rousseau
Richard Rousseau is Associate Professor at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. His research and teaching interests include Russian politics, Eurasian geopolitics, International security, international political economy and globalization.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.