The UK economy hasn't grown more than the US

The US has grown by 2.3 per cent in the last year, while the UK has remained flat.

The final set of US growth figures before the presidential election were released today, showing that the economy grew at an annual rate of 2 per cent in the third quarter or a quarterly rate of 0.5 per cent. The Tories, unsurprisingly, are keen to point out that that's a worse performance than the UK, which, as we learned yesterday, grew at a quarterly rate of 1 per cent in Q3.  But they would be wise not to invite too much comparison of the UK and US economies.

First, while the US has grown by 2.3 per cent over the last year, the UK economy has failed to grow at all. As the Office for National Statistics reported yesterday: "GDP in volume terms was estimated to have been flat in Q3 2012, when compared with Q3 2011".

Second, while the US economy is now 2.3 per cent above its pre-recession peak, the UK remains 3.1 per cent below. The US has grown for 13 consecutive quarters, but we've only just recovered the output lost in the double-dip recession (a fate that the US, partly thanks to a policy of stimulus, rather than austerity, avoided). As a result, while they've grown by 3.9 per cent over the last two years, we've grown by just 0.6 per cent.

Finally, since the UK Q3 figure was artificially inflated by the bounce-back from the extra bank holiday in June (responsible for around half of the 1 per cent growth) and the inclusion of the Olympic ticket sales (responsible for 0.2 per cent), it's foolish of the Treasury to cite it as proof that we're "on the right track". Indeed, as I wrote yesterday, a significant number of forecasters believe it's possible or even probable that the economy will shrink in quarter four. Rather than complacently boasting about a one-off surge in growth, the Tories should be acting to prevent a triple-dip recession.

The US economy is now 2.3 per cent above its pre-recession peak, while the UK remains 3.1 per cent below. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear