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.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.