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Integral Advantage Theory:
An Integral View on Emerging Economies & Societies

“Integral Advantage” – Theory is turning conventional economic wisdom on its head, specifically in relation to emerging markets, that is the BRICS countries. To that extent, we shall be arguing, that both Smith (capitalism) and Marx (communism) got it wrong. Neither the division of labor (Smith) nor economic determinism (Marx) offer a viable way forward. In fact the whole idea of “progress”, for us, is a misnoma, and we have as much, if not more, to learn from the past than we can learn from the present and future.

From Comparative Advantage to Integral Advantage

Through Integral Advantage, we argue, firstly and paradoxically, that we have as much to learn from an emerging Russia straddling “east-west” than from the established Anglo-Saxon, capitalist “west-north”, so to speak. Moreover, to the extent that we can learn from America, it is South America, specifically Brazil in the “south-west” that leads the emerging 21st century way. Secondly, perhaps even more surprisingly, we reckon we have as much to learn from an African “north-south”, than from a European “north-west”, the latter aligned with Marxism or socialism hitherto.

That said, our overall contention is not that one society is any better than another, but that all societies – in their nature and their culture, in their technology and their economy – have something potentially unique to contribute as an integral whole.

We reject the classical economic notion of “comparative advantage”, because it focuses exclusively on economic advantage, in isolation of nature, culture and society, and what we term an all round “polity” that serves to align each of such, altogether. It is that individual and societal all-roundedness that we will allude to, as integral advantage, bearing in mind that, on the one hand, the west needs the east, the north needs the south, and they need each other, altogether; and on the other hand each and every society needs to build on its own local grounds, albeit that thereafter, in order to evolve, the local and the global need to interact. That is what we mean by integral advantage.

What’s Wrong with “Emerging” Markets ?

Ironically, while our major focus in this work is on the emerging markets and societies, specifically the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – most especially as we shall see on Russia and South Africa – we reject the conventional “growth map” underlying “emerging markets” as a partial truth at best. For the very notion of “emergence”, as we shall see later in chapter 2, implies that something fundamentally new needs to come into being, new life so to speak. This new life is born out of a meeting between different worlds, rather than through competition between one and another. Compare such with what the originator of the notion of BRICs, Jim O’Neill, in his 2011 book on The Growth Map: Economic Opportunity n the BRICS and Beyond, as a senior executive of Goldman Sachs at the time of writing, had to say :

Tens of millions of people from the BRICs and beyond are being taken out of poverty by the growth of their economies. While it is easy to focus on the fact that China has created so many billionaires, it should not be forgotten that in the past 15 years or so, 300 million or more Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. In India the lives of many tens of millions have similarly improved, and perhaps 300 million or more will join them in the next decade or two. Vast swathes of mankind are having their chance to enjoy the fruits of wealth creation. That is the big story.

Well it may be a “big” story, and it is “new”, but only in a merely quantitative sense. There is nothing qualitatively new in there being many more Chinese billionaires or Indians “lifted out of poverty”, economically so to speak. In fact, through Integral Advantage we expose the downsides of economic “development”, in India and China, as well as the upsides! Meanwhile what is emerging is a further encroachment of “western-northern” capitalism on the “south-east” (India) and “north-east” (China), albeit with some BRIC variations on such an underlying capitalist theme. Moreover the theme is a singularly economic, not an integral – natural and cultural, societal as well as economic – one. In other words little substantively and qualitatively new then is emerging from O’Neill’s Growth Map. That’s what, for us, is “wrong” with such an allegation of emerging BRICS economies, in isolation of their societies.

Releasing a Society’s Genius

What, in Integral Advantage then, is qualitatively new, and thereby truly emergent, can only be found if we go beyond economics per se, and if you like the comparative economic advantage of each BRICS nation. In effect, we need to uncover the integral advantage underlying each. In other words, we need to reveal the emerging nature, culture, society and economy of each “polity” as a whole, that is, for us, the source of its overall integrity. So the fate of Greece or Spain in Europe today, or indeed Libya or Iraq within the Middle East, is determined, by and large, by the extent to which each can be enabled to pursue what we term its integral rhythm, locally and naturally grounding, locally-globally and culturally emerging, newly globally and socially-scientifically navigating, and thereafter globally-locally economically effecting: altogether then serving to release its genius. That is no easy task, and currently there is no field of study, or agency in society, to integrally promote such integral development. Hence the need for a body of theory such as this, and a developmental agency to follow.

Therefore, the pursuit of integral advantage is not dependent on relative factor costs, and thereby economic specialisation that follows (see below), but on the overall uniqueness, and authenticity, of each society, in itself and in relation to the wider world. Most if not all societies are inhibited, both internally and externally, from realizing such. Instead, one society tends to dominate over another, and prevent itself, or the other, from realizing itself as whole. Alternatively one part of a particular society is dominant over others, whereby development, as whole, is inhibited. As a result you might have poverty, autocracy, environmental decay, or another such malfunction, as such a part dominates the whole, both internally and/or externally. In short, the society, altogether, is disintegrating, to some degree or another.

Moreover, because all too often “western-northern” concepts and institutions – set apart from while dominating over the world as a whole – like free markets or liberal democracy have become so all pervasive, a particular society, be it Egypt or Ireland, is inhibited from emerging. Integral development, centered in middle-up-down-across guise, needs to arise initially and locally from the ground up : naturally and communally as such, and subsequently develop, culturally and spiritually and locally-globally so to speak, outgrowing its prior parochial self. So Libya or Iraq disintegrate on the one hand, once supposedly released from its despotic shackles, because each is not enabled to emerge in such integral guise. Greece and Spain implode on the other hand, as each has done of late, because austerity may bite, and such austerity does nothing to help each uncover and release their overall, societally based integral advantage. Indeed, there is no integral agency – certainly neither for example IMF nor EU – to promote such.

Integral BRICS

We point to such an emerging integral BRICS Advantage, in relation to each of the five economies and societies, generally – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – and in relation to two of these, Russia and South Africa, most specifically. Why then do these two countries assume pride of place in our integral context.

True to our integral realities, spanning east and west, north and south, we chose two countries whose reason for being spans, respectively, those geographical and psychological polarities, that is Russia spiritually and materially (east/west) and South Africa in terms of nature or wilderness and humankind (south/north). Moreover, because our concerns are integral, rather than merely economic, these two countries are, for us, of major existential concern: South Africa, not only the place of humankind’s origins, but also renowned for its “long walk to freedom” between the 1960’s and 1990’s, leading to the fall of “apartheid”, and Russia, because it was, for a long time, the major counter-force, socio-politically, to the all pervasive capitalist “west”, and today, geographically, straddles “east-west”.

Alongside these Russian and South African two then, and positioned integrally, Brazil “south-west”, India “south-east”, China “north-east”, and the conventional BRICS wisdom as formulated by the US/UK in the “west-north” (see above).

Note: This summary is based on Lessem R (2015) Integral Advantage : Emerging Economies and Societies.