The developing world is growing faster than us, but don't panic

I'd still rather be growing slowly at a high level of development than the other way round.

New Statesman
A car is parked in the city of Chengdu, China. Photograph: Getty Images

Chris Giles and Kate Allen, writing in the FT, highlight the changing pattern of worldwide economic growth:

In 2013, for the first time since mechanisation led Britain down the path of industrialisation in the 19th century, emerging economies will produce the majority of the world’s goods and services. The inhabitants of rich, advanced economies have long represented only a small but powerful proportion of the world’s population. Now, they are less economically important than the mass of people living in the world’s poor and middle-income countries.

They also present a fun little chart of the changing economic "centre of gravity" in the world, showing its shift to the northwest throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, and then sharp reversal after 1960:

The shift is certainly important, in an arbitrary-but-psychologically-important-figure sort of way, but its worth taking proclamations of doom with a pinch of salt. In a follow-up blog post, Allen shows why, presenting the ten fastest-growing economies:

  GDP change, % (2013)
South Sudan 32.1
Libya 20.2
Sierra Leone 17.1
Mongolia 14.0
Paraguay 11.0
Timor-Leste 10.0
Iraq 9.0
Panama 9.0
The Gambia 8.9
Mozambique 8.4

 

The pattern is clear: if you want to top world growth tables, the best thing to do is experience a crippling conflict which destroys most of your productive capacity, and then recover from it. Not only will your annual growth skyrocket because you basically weren't making anything the year before, all the slack in your economy will be taken up with the recovery effort!

Of course, that's not actually something worth aiming for. But it's useful to make the point that when it comes to the developing world overtaking us, it's GDP, not growth, which we should be concerned about.

Now, given China's GDP will outstrip America's in a few years, that's not to say there's nothing to worry about…