December 29, 2011
Pity the predictors. Forecasting the following year is a mug’s game. Forecasting broader trends is easier, and one trend has surely been established beyond any reasonable doubt: the gradual but inexorable economic decline of Western Europe in general and Britain in particular.
As a report earlier this week by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) noted, Brazil has just overtaken the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy. By 2020, Britain is likely also to have been surpassed by Russia and India. By 2028, Brazilians will enjoy a per capita income equivalent to ours. From 2028, barring any dramatic lurch, the standard of living of the average Brazilian will begin to be greater than that of the average Briton.
This historic shift will have huge implications for our body politic, our sense of identity as a nation and our role in the world. For the moment, international institutions remain locked in the past. The UN Security Council appears more anachronistic than ever – the victorious 1945 powers locking horns with their Cold War enemies. Although the G8 has been largely replaced by the more representative G20, the Brits and the French continue to be guided by an illusion that only the past, and their present nuclear status, provides.
By comparison, thinking in the US appears more realistic about the rise of China, the other BRICs, and by other emerging powers. In February, China displaced Japan as the second largest economy but, according to one report, the American public, precipitately, believed that the Chinese had already seized the number one spot.