Everyone likes to know where they stand. I remember someone gave me the Economist handbook of league tables about ten years ago, and I went through the whole book wondering if the UK would top any of them, good or bad; and to my surprise it did: the UK that year had published more books than any other country.
Good news again for the UK this week (I suppose) – its economy is predicted to remain strong and even gather strength through to 2030. So that’s all right. The report, which has been put together by PWC, is really no more than a piece of marketing guff (predicting economic activity twenty-five years into the future would be a demonstration case of futility if there were any useful feedback); but it will please the Indians, who are predicted to move into third position in the world rankings, and displease the French and the Chinese, the latter because they still won’t have overtaken the USA (owing to their poor demographic outlook, apparently).
But what does it all mean anyway? GDP is a hopelessly crude indicator of economic health, even if you could measure it accurately. And it assumes that each nation state is a hermetic entity which is in naked competition with each other nation state. In an age of vast globalised industries, that is a nonsense.
Many alternatives have been proposed, measuring not just economic activity, but also economic distribution, or happiness, and now even ‘goodness’. Simon Anholt, a policy advisor to various governments, has proposed a good-country index, on the basis that countries that ‘do good’ in the world add positive spin to their reputations and, consequently, their economic outlook. It’s a pleasant idea, even if the UK doesn’t come top (Ireland does – the UK comes in the top ten, however, as does most of Scandinavia and New Zealand). I have no idea as to its value, but Anholt is eloquent on the subject (if you can ignore the way he keeps smacking his lips), and worth a watch.