Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A new economic order

Over on The Telegraph, Irwin Stelzer argues that Britain's language, legal system and time zone will ensure that we will "ensure its economic future". I'm not convinced.

First of all, as far as language is concerned it is quite true that English is the language of commerce and has been for some time, but this hasn't stopped thousands of call centre jobs leeching to India and Pakistan. The fact is that the very fact that English is now so widely spoken is the reason why it is no longer necessary to have your headquarters or what have you in England anymore. The other point to bear in mind is that just because English is the language of commerce today is no reason to suppose it will be in, say, fifty years time. It could well be Mandarin Chinese.

Which brings me on to the second point - time zone. Britain benefited from being slap bang in the middle of the two economic global powerhouses; Europe and America. That balance has been shifting for some time now to between the USA and Southeast Asia - notably China. This downturn is going to see that process sped up as China - a country smothered in protectionism - will continue to have economic growth while Europe shrinks rapidly. By the time this crisis is over the transformation will be complete. Our time zone will be of no benefit as we sit on the fringes of the economic powers.

Finally, the legal system. This is a curious one as Britain has been sliding down the table of good countries to do business in for some time now. With Britain part of the EU and the EU hell bent on tougher regulation to restrict business practices the likelihood is that it will become increasingly difficult to do business here. When you also consider that there are several countries with legal systems based on our own - India, Australia and New Zealand for example - who will be much closer to the centre of the new economic order, then why would any business want to come here?

It's actually quite interesting to consider that not only is there an economic shift occurring, but that there has also been a significant change in strategic relationships too. The much vaunted "special relationship" between Britain and the USA is increasingly less so, while Australia continues to build closer ties with the USA. I think that is symptomatic of the future.

Stelzer is pinning his hopes on a status quo which shows no sign of happening. The assumption that Britain is going to be able to benefit from our geographic location, language and legal system is entirely misplaced as - once this is all over - we will be well out on the fringes of what is happening in the global economy.

All the more reason to stop pinning our hopes on "services" which can be provided better, cheaper and more conveniently elsewhere. Bad news for us, but good if you happen to be Antipodean.

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