Scary graphs are scary

Foreign Policy has this sort of appalling OMG US AMERICA IS IN DECLINE issue out this month, and I just got a copy so I haven’t really had any time to get into it, but one graph pops off the page in terms of its disingenuous attempt to evoke some kind of terror in the reader. It compares the 2009 combined GDP of the G-7 (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the E-7, and the projected 2050 combined GDPs of both groups. The G-7 led in 2009, $29 trillion to $21 trillion, but by 2050 the E-7 economies are going to dwarf the G-7, $138 trillion to $69 trillion. Absolutely terrifying stuff:


Wait, what the hell is the E-7? Some sort of bloc of allied nations like the G-7? That really could be a little worrisome, right?

Well, turns out the E-7 (the “Emerging 7”) is a paper tiger only, invented by PriceWaterhouseCoopers to group the 7 leading “emerging economies,” unless you envision a future in which China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey are going to align themselves in some kind of Legion of Doom to take down America and her allies.

There are oh, so many problems with this, even apart from the implicit assumption that a shifting of economic strength away from the Group of Seven Neo-Liberal and Mostly White nations is just intuitively A Bad Thing. For one thing, Turkey is in NATO, Mexico is in NAFTA, and lo and behold, all seven of the emerging nations happen to be in the G-20, alongside all of the G-7. They’re not in any way aligned with each other the way that the G-7 are. Brazil, Russia, India, and China are all associated with one another (along with South Africa) through BRICS, and there’s been talk of Turkey and Indonesia joining that group as well, but BRICS hasn’t ever actually done anything aside from holding summits and issuing press releases. So the visual idea being conveyed here, that these two blocs of countries (one of which isn’t actually a “bloc” at all) are in direct opposition to one another, is false.

For another thing, the anticipated economic might of the E-7 is a bit too simplistic, since over half of its combined GDP is supposed to come from one country, China. In fact, China’s 2050 GDP alone is expected to surpass the entire G-7 on its own, $70 trillion to $68 trillion. Which, here’s the thing, it should surpass the G-7’s combined GDP, since in 2050 China’s population will be just a bit less than double the combined population of the G-7 nations. Frankly the fact that China’s GDP isn’t already higher than the G-7’s is the bigger surprise, and the idea that I’m supposed to be worried that the global economy might one day reflect a slightly more equitable distribution of resources is silly. The real problem here is that India, whose population by 2050 is projected to be higher than China’s, is still supposed to have a GDP around half of China’s.

Actually it’s the whole nature of projecting these kinds of things out to 2050 that’s the biggest problem. A whole lot of unexpected things could happen in the next 35 years to upend this whole scenario. Some massive natural disaster could strike, like a supervolcano eruption or, hell, even an asteroid strike. Governments could be overthrown, wars could break out, or, and stop me if this is getting too outrageous, but it’s even possible that the Earth’s climate could change in such a way as to lead to shortages of precious resources like clean water and arable land, and to the rise of sea levels to heights that would inundate precious coastal cities. I’m just spitballing on that last one. On the other hand, if humanity suddenly has an epiphany and seriously pursues renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, that could also completely upend these projections, both because of the expansion of the renewable energy industry and because of the devastating effect a global renewable energy regime would have on a petrostate like Russia (or like the US is becoming, but I guess I’m optimistic that we’d somehow manage to get on top of the renewable wave in spite of Congress).

Anyway, the upshot is that I wouldn’t be too worried about the economic power of the “E-7” anytime soon.

Author: DWD

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