It is sometimes easier to look a few years ahead than it is to look a few months, and this is surely one of those times.
We can only guess as to whether the pandemic will be pretty much over by the summer, but we can be confident that in five or 10 years’ time it will have become a distant memory.
After all, by the late 1920s the scars of the so-called Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/19 had long faded, to be replaced by other and even more worrying issues.
But what do economists – a breed not noted for accurate predictions – sensibly say about the world economy a decade hence?
Well actually quite a lot. Long-range forecasting was popularised by Goldman Sachs, with its BRICs report, back in 2001 and 2003. The clever idea of the head of its economic team, Jim O’Neill, now Lord O’Neill, was to use an economic growth model to show that the four largest emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India and China, would grow much faster than the economies of the developed world. And the acronym stuck.
The detail, as you might expect, was wrong. Both China and India have done rather better than forecast, with China now likely to pass the US to become the world’s largest economy by 2030, rather than 2040. Russia and Brazil have, for different reasons, done rather worse.
But the broad thrust of the work was spot on. Growth, and the economic clout that goes with it, was shifting from the developed economies to the emerging ones.
The work of Goldman Sachs has been modified and updated by others, most recently by the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research in its World Economic League Table, released just after Christmas.
Its key messages are that China will indeed pass the US in size in 2030, that India would pass France next year and become number three behind China and the US in 2031, and that Germany would overtake Japan in 2033.
And the UK? Well, the report is positive about the country’s growth prospects, suggesting that it would pull well clear of France to have an economy some 16 per cent larger by 2036.
Quite a lot of these big predictions are intuitively obvious. China and India with their huge populations were the world’s largest economies until the Industrial Revolution took off in the 19th Century and propelled the UK, Europe and then the United States, to what we now call developed country status.
Now the emerging nations are applying the technology developed (mostly) in the West and catching up. China is now a middle-income country, not a poor one.
The positive outlook for the UK may, however, come as a bit of surprise given the gloom so often reported about the country’s economic prospects, not just because of Brexit and the pandemic but most recently about the surge in inflation.