January 5, 2011
The greatest global boom of all time has barely begun. Over the next forty years, economic growth will quicken yet further as the rising powers of Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America reach their full stride
Crunching everything from fertility rates to schooling levels and the rule of law, HSBC predicts that the world's economic output will triple again by 2050, provided the major states can avoid conflict - trade wars, or worse - and defeat the Malthusian threat of food and water limits. Growth will rise to 3pc on average, up from 2pc over the last decade.
In a sweeping report entitled "The World in 2050" , the bank said China would snatch the top slot as expected, but only narrowly. China at $24.6 trillion (constant 2000 dollars) and the US at $22.3 trillion will together tower over the global economy in bipolar condominium - or simply the G2 - with India at $8.2 trillion far behind in third slot, and parts of Europe slithering into oblivion.
Turkey will vault past Russia, settling an Ottoman score. Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia will all move into the top 20. Muslim societies may start to reassert an economic clout unseen since the late Caliphate. Yet Brazil may disappoint again, stalling at 7th place in 2050 as its birthrate slows sharply and bad schools exact their toll.
The surprise is how well the Anglo-Saxon states hold up under HSBC's model, which is based on the theoretical work of Harvard professor Robert Barro. America's high fertility rate (2.1) will allow it too keep adding manpower long after China's workforce has begun to contract in 2020s and as even India starts to age in the 2040s.
An eightfold jump in the per capita income of China and India will keep growth brisk despite demographic headwinds, but they will not come to close to matching US living standards. Americans will be three times richer than the Chinese in 2050.
Britain at $3.6 trillion also fares well, slipping one rank to sixth place but pulling far ahead of Italy and France, and almost displacing Germany as Europe's biggest economy. This is chiefly due to the UK's healthy fertility rate (1.9), although sceptics might question whether a birthrate inflated by the EU's highest share of unmarried teenager mothers is a good foundation for prosperity.
The low fertility of Korea (1.1), Singapore (1.2) Germany (1.3), Poland (1.3), Italy (1.4), Spain (1.4) and Russia (1.4), more or less dooms these countries to aging crises and population decline unless they open the floodgates to immigration.
Japan is already deep into this phase of atrophy, explaining why the country has had such trouble shaking off the effects of the Nikkei bust. Its total population began contracting outright since 2005. It shed a record 120,000 last year, and will shrink 37pc by 2050.
"Demography matters," said Karen Ward, the report's chief author. The "big losers" are the smaller states of Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, and Austria, which will mostly drop out of the top 30. "They may struggle to maintain their influence in global policy forums," she said.
HSBC works from the assumption that mankind will avoid the energy crunch and overcome the eco-deficit, a term used to describe the world's depletion rate of non-renewable assets. It calls for $46 trillion of investments in alternative forms of energy to break out of the carbon trap, and head off a supply crisis that could derail growth.
Feeding the world may be harder. The UN expects food demand to rise 70pc by 2050, yet the yield growth of crops has slowed to 1.5pc a year from 3.2pc in the 1960s. The number of people living in areas experiencing "severe water stress" will double from a third of the world population to two thirds between 1995 and 2025. The water basins irrigating the crops of the North China plain are being exhausted at an alarming rate.
HSBC admits that it economic projections are based on a "rather rosy scenario". Yet one thing seems clear. As superpowers of world food output, the US and Canada are sitting pretty.