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.

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…

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

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.