Population adjusted figures


             The last couple of decades have been written off as lost decades for Japan. GDP has only risen by around 1% a year, and in several years has struggled to grow at all. Meanwhile, until 2008, the western advanced countries grew at more than 2% a year. Both Japan and the west grew in part as a result of a big build up of debt.

             The big difference between Japan on the one hand, and the US and the UK on the other was population change. The US and the UK were expanding their populations by inward migration and higher birth rates. Japan’s population was shrinking, with very little inward migration. The southern European countries are adding to their Euro anguish by also experiencing population decline.In the UK at the peak of Labour’s rapid migration you had to take 0.4% off the growth rate or up to one fifth of the growth, to get to the growth per head. Now migration is lower and so the adjustment is smaller.

           Recent UK figures have posed a couple of puzzles to economists. The first is the productivity puzzle which we have talked about before. It is not much of a puzzle. The numbers in jobs have been rising and productivity has been falling, because the two most productive sectors, finance and oil and gas have been contracting.

          The second is the retail puzzle. Retail sales over the last year have risen despite the obvious squeeze on average real incomes. This can be explained in part  by people saving less. We also need to recognise that continuing levels of inward migration, even allowing for the one third reduction achieved by this government so far, will serve to boost retail spending. There are also a large number of temporary visitors who indulge in retail therapy when here. Just visit Bicester Village or central London and see the large number of expensive purchases made by overseas visitors.

           We need to keep in mind when reading different country figures the population background. You would expect the US and UK to grow faster than Japan or Germany, because of the rising populations. Adjusted for population the Japanese performance is not very different from the west.


  1. margaret brandreth-j
    July 27, 2013

    Increase in population may mean more people claiming benefit , less money to spend all but on small retail products and less larger amounts of money to invest in business , therefore reduction in productivity? Less dynamic variability ?

  2. lifelogic
    July 27, 2013

    Indeed it is GDP per head that matters to individuals, government on the other hand just want tax revenueS, that they usually waste. Growth should have been far better technology and manufacturing improvements have been astounding. More free world trade has given advantages too, but these have largely been offset and squandered by excessive and inefficient governments and over taxation, a parasitic litigation culture, over regulation, barmy religious expensive energy policy, dreadfully run public services, poor schools, payments to encourage the feckless to remain so, mad employment laws, over taxation and over complex taxation and other government inspired distortions to the market.

    Why would sensible people save much in the UK when the systems nearly always tells then not to bother. They cannot even beat inflation, in a bank account after tax and have 40% stolen of them on death or to pay for care.

    The UK had finally a tiny amount of growth despite the best efforts of Cameron and Osborne certainly not because of it. It is at least 20% behind where is should have been with a sensible government and some vision.

    We need fewer civil servants, fewer lawyers, fewer tax accountants, fewer HR legal advisers, fewer health and safely excesses, fewer civil servants, lower taxes and more people doing actual and productive things and less suffocating EU. Everyone sensible knows this but we have Cameron alas.

  3. Andyvan
    July 27, 2013

    It’s not a puzzle to me that GDP figures don’t make sense. They are so ridiculous that of government steals more money from productive people then borrows more and pays people not to work that counts as growth. If it starts a war and spends billions on death machines that’s growth. If it employed 10000 people with borrowed money , had them dig holes and employed another 10000 to fill them in that’s growth. Add to that the enormous manipulation of statistics that every government engages in to try and hide their criminal incompetence I am amazed that anyone puts any time in to even reading these figures. Go and do someone useful, put a tenner on the 2.30 at Kempton Park, wash the car, polish the dog, anything but bother with statistics.

    1. Leslie Singleton
      July 27, 2013

      Andy–Don’t forget the classic example of the Pharaoh who had all his people spend all their time building pyramids. Was Egypt’s GDP massive or, more like, nil? According to John, and one gathers he is not alone (“convention” comes in to it, I think he said), whether the endeavour is useful or not is irrelevant. According to me, especially with all the big decisions being made on the basis of tiny changes in this inadequate and misleading measure, it has no credible content.

    2. zorro
      July 27, 2013

      Wash the dog and polish the car even…… 🙂

      As John points out, the ‘growth’ figures under Labour owed a fair bit to increased consumption in the essentials in life and mass migration. I wonder which society will have better GDP per capita in the long run…. I think there is evidence of increased foreign (tourist) consumer spending in places like Bicester, Central London and Windsor.

      With regards to employment, we can also see that the vast majority of jobs created recently have been low paid and predominantly service related.


  4. Brian Tomkinson
    July 27, 2013

    What about the puzzle, as reported in today’s Telegraph, that the EU “is advertising 808,659 UK jobs to people on the continent”? Worse still, ” UK firms are given as much as £1,000 as a bonus for taking on the foreign workers. …..The EU scheme offers foreigners hundreds of pounds of funding to pay for interviews” What are you going to do about that on behalf of the 2.5 million unemployed and the UK taxpayers?

    1. zorro
      July 27, 2013

      Well, of course they will encourage this to soak up their own unemployed. In their eyes, where we live is a country……a par of a country called Europe.


    2. philip riley
      July 27, 2013

      John Redwood is a backbencher, wrongly in my opinion, I would have him as Chancellor, or chief secretary to the Treasury, Cameron chooses to waste his talents.
      JR as a backbencher can do nothing to change it, I’m not defending the situation, but this isn’t John Redwoods fault.

      1. Brian Tomkinson
        July 28, 2013

        I didn’t say it was John Redwood’s fault. If, as you write, a backbencher you can do nothing to change things why have backbenchers? Excusing them from action is exactly what their mendacious leaders want.

    3. sm
      July 28, 2013

      How can a bonus for taking on foreign workers be legal? or indeed fair?
      Interview expenses – are these given to UK applicants on the same basis?

  5. alan jutson
    July 27, 2013

    At last a politician who recognises that immigration/population growth will automatically raise GDP even if there is no real growth per each member of the population, and that borrowing for spending, also gives a false figure of true growth.

    Thus in effect we have been using dodgy/fake figures for decades, when the Government has been making decisions on their past/future spending plans.

    Perhaps the answer to your question about official low growth figures, but higher retail spending , can be summed up with a simple explanation.

    The alternative economy is growing, at the expense of the official economy.
    The alternative economy keeps more cash flowing in the hands of the people to spend in the retail sector.

    If the above is the reason, then you have to ask yourself why would that be happening.
    The simple answer which you have suggested on many occassion John, is that high rates of tax discourages work, or at least official work, just like it has in southern Europe and many other Countries, and high immigration from those countries has perhaps bought those traits over here.

    Thus the answer is simple, lower tax rates significantly for all, and raise the penalties for evasion.

    Then the next very simple thing to do is to limit government spending to 80% of the KNOWN tax take of the previous year, and we are back on track.

    Its not rocket science is it. !

    1. zorro
      July 27, 2013

      Well, Labour could have brought in millions more and raised the GDP and therefore growth…Let’s count our blessings


    2. uanime5
      July 27, 2013

      At present over half the population pay a maximum of 20% income tax and 12% NI on their earnings (those who earn less than £7.5K per year pay neither tax). How much lower do the taxes have to be to encourage people to work in low paying jobs?

      I trust you’re not claiming that people are refusing to work in jobs paying over £35,000 or £150,000 per year because of the 40% and 45% tax rates.

      1. Edward 2
        July 28, 2013

        The effect of lowering income taxes is to leave citizens with a little more money to spend as they choose.
        It used to be something Chancellors did years ago in their budgets to encourage economic growth and increase retail spending

        1. Bazman
          July 30, 2013

          This is done now as tax credits and pays more than a reduced tax bill. The state is in effect subsidising low wages either way. Should these subsidies be stopped and the person on low wages be forced to live within their means even if this means hardship?

      2. alan jutson
        July 28, 2013


        I would suggest the fairest way to reduce taxes for everybody, is to raise the tax free allowance, thus giving everyone more of their own money to keep, and spend as they desire.

        This has been done to a degree (certainly more than under any previous Government) so far, but needs to go much, much further.

        It would also have the effect of perhaps encouraging more who are on Benefits to get back into work, thus reducing government spending a little at the same time.

        I take it you would prefer people to be in work, rather than rely simply on others to work and provide for them.

  6. English Pensioner
    July 27, 2013

    Surely Japan is doing well, even if it manages no growth, because it has a falling population, and so the growth per capita must be rising. Conversely, our acclaimed (by Osborne) 0.6% growth reported a couple of days ago is probably in line with our population growth and the per capita output remains constant.
    When it comes to retail spending, it would be useful to know the ages of the spenders. Many pensioners, like myself, who have a company pension are spending their savings, usually buying for their adult children and so letting them have the money now rather than only 60% of it when they die. This could account for significant spending on household goods like televisions, DVD recorders, furniture and of course “white goods”.

  7. Neil Craig
    July 27, 2013

    If 1% growth is a couple of “lost decades” for Japan with a declining population, 2% for us, after deducting for 0.4% immigration is clearly no better. By comparison with non-EU world growth of 6% the difference between Japan’s failure and ours is insignificant. The only reason Japan is noted is because they had 4 decades of fast growth previously.

    World growth rates are increasing making the discrepancy obvious – except to our state owned broadcaster who, Orwell-like, censors any mention of the difference.

    Of course we could be out of recession and into at least world class growth any time our political classes wanted, but only UKIP does.

    1. uanime5
      July 27, 2013

      Care to explain why only developing countries have the level of growth you’re talking about, while developed countries such as Canada and Australia aren’t having this level of growth. Could it be because it’s impossible for a developed economy to grow this fast.

  8. Acorn
    July 27, 2013

    The number of jobs has been rising but unfortunately, most of them pay less than £8 per hour. Not exactly high gross value added (GVA) type work! The middle class is being “hollowed out” as my US peers keep telling me.

    Productivity is a puzzle, there are very few jobs in Oil and Gas jobs, circa 70,000, and only about 1.2 million in finance and bankster-ing, out of the 32.3 million jobs being done by 29.7 million workers. The numbers just seem a bit odd, particularly when things like total hours worked has been going up at 1.4% average for the last four years, when the GDP has been flatlining since Darling left the Treasury.

    1. libertarian
      July 27, 2013


      “The number of jobs has been rising but unfortunately, most of them pay less than £8 per hour”

      Utter nonsense. I’m fed up telling people about this tripe repeated by people who cant be bothered to look around, mostly because it suits their agenda to believe a) All work is either part time or badly paid b) foreign workers are under cutting the minimum wage.

      70-80% of work in the UK is at a level above a living wage of £8 per hour and is full time and there is lots of it available. The average wage in the UK is £26300

      All you have to do is google jobs to find this out

      1. Acorn
        July 28, 2013

        I use real data from accredited sources. There are some sources of data that JR will not let pass moderation so I won’t quote any today. I have used the following because I know the integrity of the original data and you can generally use other sources to verify it.

        Most jobs created since the recession are in low-pay industries such as retail, table waiting and residential care, a *** report has claimed. The report said nearly 80% of the 587,000 net new jobs since June 2010 have been in sectors where the average pay is £7.95 an hour or less.

        The highest paid sectors have also seen jobs growth … There has been net jobs growth in areas like computing, for example, which pays an average of £18.40 an hour … net job creation in middle income jobs stagnated after 2010. The report’s calculations were based on the median wage earned in each respective industrial sector. “Many people who are forced into low-paid work are not only having to take a massive financial hit, but are having to put their careers on hold.”

        The report noted that while employment in low-paid industries was the hardest hit during the 2008-09 recession, it has since recovered to a record high of 6.4 million jobs. Total jobs in the highest paid sectors – which weathered the recession far better – have also risen to hit a record high of 900,000. Although there was negligible overall growth in the number of medium-paid jobs during the period, there was a considerable change in some industries. Legal and accountancy employment rose by 135,000, while public sector jobs, such as in administration and social work, have become more scarce.

      2. sm
        July 28, 2013

        Try applying for some that’s the acid test.Then let me know how you get on.

      3. Bazman
        July 30, 2013

        That is an average and the problem being with averages is that multi millionaire incomes push up the numbers. Many skilled jobs are being advertised at minimum and just above minimum wage. What does that tell you and what do you think for example a supermarket cashier job pays? A Fast food outlet worker? etc. 26 k a year? Oh they just do for a bit of extra pin money I suppose?

  9. Martin
    July 27, 2013

    I’m sure we are all glad to hear that retail is doing fine in Bicester Village & Oxford Street. A lot of other high streets are a sorry tale of to let boards, pawn shops etc.

    1. Jerry
      July 27, 2013

      @Martin: “A lot of other high streets are a sorry tale of to let boards, pawn shops etc.

      Well people will keep shopping on-line, it’s not that people have stopped shopping… The UK, were everyone (seemingly) knows the value of everything but the worth of nothing! 🙁

    2. Nina Andreeva
      July 27, 2013

      Radio 4 did a great little slot on Bicester Village recently, you would would not believe it but its more popular with Chinese tourists than anything in London. In fact there are plans to even build a “sister” village in China itself for those that cannot be bothered with the 13 hour flight to the UK. However just give it a bit of time, the Chinese bubble will eventually go “pop” because nobody is buying their stuff in the West anymore Then Bicester will start to be as attractive to global shoppers as Middlesborough for example.

  10. outsider
    July 27, 2013

    A welcome post. GDP and growth figures have become part of the disconnexion between the political elite and ordinary people. Since Mr Brown, if not before, GDP growth has been targeted as the resource to finance more government spending or, more recently, to reduce current borrowing. GDP growth is a cloak of political prestige, like the aid percentage. City economists and business lobbies go along with this because they see the UK simply as an economic area.
    For the rest of us, it is living standards, real wage growth from productivity and involuntary unemployment that matter. Not GDP growth, let alone “happiness” surveys.

    1. Nina Andreeva
      July 27, 2013

      Its really great to see a load of coalition MPs mouthing off about 0.8% growth and how everything is back on track. When I was doing “O” level economics at the fag end of the ’70s, a sustained period of sub trend growth used to be called not even a recession but a depression. However if your MP, how on on earth can you not fail to see the recognise the rigour that the rest of us are going through at the moment when you are on the package that they are on? Remember to keep reading the obits in the DT because its virtually impossible to read of even the most obscure backbencher kicking the bucket broke what ever party he represented.

  11. Colin
    July 27, 2013

    Or to put it another way, adjusted for population the west’s performance is no better than Japan’s.

  12. Cliff. Wokingham
    July 27, 2013

    The figure that I would be interested in seeing, is the one that states the total number of man hours actually worked.
    Before I retired, I worked in healthcare and saw a practice which, in my opinion, may have distorted the figures of “Number of people in work.”
    As a full time psychiatric nurse, I was contracted to work 37.5 hrs every week and that was the “normal” number of full time hours. Sometimes, when nurses left the hospital, two part time nurses were employed to replace the one that left; these tended to be on 16 hour contracts. Using this example; total man hours worked reduced from 37.5 to 32, ( This figure ignores loss during shift handover) but number of nurses employed rose from one to two. This was why I always took with a pinch of salt Mr Brown’s boasts about number of people in employment. I now know that many jobs are not what I would call full time. I wonder if this practice still goes on. How do the total hours worked per head now look, compared to say ten years ago?

    I feel official stats are somewhat distorted sometimes and may not always give a clear view of what’s really going on and how well or otherwise, our economy is doing.

    Just out of interest John; I remember vaguely hearing that the previous government were going to bring in laws which would stop people from encouraging others to boycot a business. For example, If I thought business A was acting unethically, I would not be able to suggest others stopped using their services or buying their products…..Did this law come in? If for example, a motor manufacturer stopped all production in the UK and moved production to a country which had much lower costs and overheads, would it be legal to advocate boycoting that company’s vehicles?

    Reply I do not recall such a new law being brought in, but I would need to check.

    1. margaret brandreth-j
      July 27, 2013

      Yes but hours are even less. Some have 5 jobs and that means agency . Good whilst you can get it . The traditional 37.5 hrs were lost to me in 1995. With a F/T NHS job with increments and a rise in grade as promotion occurs means that the pensions for many people would have been good , so that was stopped straight away. Both jealousy from private sector and an unwillingness to pay out was apparent , but or course we needed to pay in.

    2. Monty
      July 27, 2013

      Sounds like a copy of the anti-boycott regulations they have in the USA.

    3. Acorn
      July 28, 2013

      Start with the Labour Market Statistics, July 2013.
      http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_315111.pdf . Page 10: Actual hours worked.

      Follow the links, note the time series codes like YBUS. Use the Dataset selector at ONS
      http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/datasets-and-tables/data-selector.html?cdid=YBUS&dataset=lms&table-id=7 .

    4. Acorn
      July 28, 2013

      I don’t know if this will copy across correctly to make sense but, ‘ere goes. Average hours were not available till 1992. This, in answer to a barbed comment over my shoulder minutes ago, which intimated that women were doing more and men doing less.

      YBUS LFS: Total actual weekly hours worked (millions): UK: All: SA
      YBUT LFS: Total actual weekly hours worked (millions): UK: Male: SA
      YBUU LFS: Total actual weekly hours worked (millions): UK: Female: SA
      YBUV LFS: Avg actual weekly hours of work: UK: All workers in main & 2nd job: SA
      YBUW LFS: Avg actual weekly hours of work: UK: Male workers in main & 2nd job: –
      YBUX LFS: Avg actual weekly hours of work: UK: Female workers in main & 2nd job
      (reads in above order, left to right)
      1971 Q1 864.3 628.3 235.9
      1992 Q2 847.6 545.7 302 33.2 38.7 26.3
      2013 Q1 950.3 581.6 368.6 32.0 36.6 26.7

  13. formula57
    July 27, 2013

    So we have had a lost post-WW2 era then?

    Well done and thanks to Clement, Winston, Anthony, Harold, Alec, Harold, Ted, Jim, Margaret, John, Tony, Gordon and Dave.

    1. Jerry
      July 27, 2013

      @formula57: Is that compared to the lost pre-WW2 era?… The 1950s, indeed even the 1960s, were not lost in the sense that the last 40 years seem to have been.

      1. formula57
        July 28, 2013

        Yes I take your point. Perhaps we have always been lost and always will be.

        The economic history of the 1950’s and 1960’s though is not enviable. It took a very great deal to absorb (I will not say “recover from”) the shock of WW2 and it was perhaps not until Margaret’s time that a sounder basis for economic success was achieved.

        1. Jerry
          July 28, 2013

          @formula57: Well that is open to debate, history is kind to Mrs T because she tamed the unions (quite correctly, even many on the left accept that now) and helped to tame the eastern block, but her domestic socail and economic legacy is far more contentious. Our best years were between 1950 and about 1967, it has been down hill ever since…

  14. Gary
    July 27, 2013

    This country is headed for economic disaster. The govt is underwriting the housing market using QE money printing, causing inflated costs of either renting or buying. At the same time this is stoking consumer price inflation, while wages are stagnant. Printing money doesn’t help real growth , because inflation grows the financial sector and erodes the productive manufacturing sector as falling rates erodes capital, and so wages outside London will continue to stagnate. This has two effects. Either people are forced by this squeeze to seek shelter on welfare, thus making the govt’s deficit worse, or if welfare is cut, people will be homeless. The govt has distorted the market to the point where the market is broken. All for short termist electioneering. Ie. Cranking up the economic life support to win the next election, even if it kills the patient. And it probably will eventually kill the patient. This is insanity. History will mark this as brain dead. Something has to give and most probably will manifest in social unrest.

    1. zorro
      July 27, 2013

      Each economic crisis slowly but surely squeezes the middle classes more and more, and concentrates the wealth with the 1%…… Another one with an inflated house price symptom at the core should do the trick.


    2. zorro
      July 27, 2013

      And what will the social unrest usher in……?


  15. Anonymous
    July 27, 2013

    Does anyone doubt the veracity of The Sun report that 800,000 British jobs are advertised across the EU and that:

    – £900 will be given to each applicant to travel and lodge here for interview

    – £900 will be given to each employee that takes on an EU applicant ?

    That sort of money sloshing around should give a retail boost but are sales really a good measure to go by when the nation is in such a state of migratory flux ?

    1. Anonymous
      July 27, 2013

      Correction: employer, not employee

    2. Jerry
      July 27, 2013

      @Anonymous: Compared to how many such “EU”, non UK based, jobs advertised here in the UK?…

      1. Anonymous
        July 28, 2013

        Jerry – This is not what the British public wants.

        1. Jerry
          July 29, 2013

          @Anonymous: “This is not what the British public wants.

          Says who – xenophobes?…

    3. zorro
      July 27, 2013

      And of course, British applicants will doubtless be excluded from e ceiling the grants……


      1. zorro
        July 28, 2013

        Receiving the grants…..

  16. Ralph Musgrave
    July 27, 2013

    The most hilariously stupid argument ever put for immigration was put by the last Labour government, namely that if the population expands, then the economy expands. Ergo immigration promotes “economic growth”.

    The latter phenomenon doesn’t of course of itself make anyone in the UK any better off: it just (to repeat) involves having more people on an already over-crowded island.

    Details as follows.

    See “The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Immigration – A Cross-Departmental Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs”.
    Look at p.11 and reference No.12 – a reference to a NIESR work. This work basically just made the very simple point that the more people there are in the country, the larger is GNP.

  17. Denis Cooper
    July 27, 2013

    If you’re going to talk about immigration then the fundamental question is:

    “Who should decide a country’s immigration policy?”.

    And if the country purports to be a democracy, then the answer must be:

    “The citizens of a country should decide its immigration policy”.

    In the past it may have been accepted that a monarch could decide to invite groups of foreigners to settle in what he saw as his country, his realm, as Charles II did with the Huguenots, but that is not acceptable now; and nor is it acceptable for MPs to behave in the same way with complete disregard for the views of those who elected them, and then embark on publicly funded propaganda campaigns to try to still criticism from the very public they are supposed to be serving.

  18. uanime5
    July 27, 2013

    The two main problems with constant population growth are that if infrastructure doesn’t constantly grow at the same rate standards will fall and the cost of pensions keeps rising as the workforce keeps increasing. So population growth tends to bring benefits now and problems later.

    Regarding the retail problem another solution could involve giffen goods (a good people paradoxically consume more of the higher the price is). So retail sales could be higher because people have reduced their spending on non-retail goods, such as drinking at home instead of drinking in a pub.

    1. outsider
      July 28, 2013

      It is hard to think bottles of scotch whisky or salmon en croute from a supermarket as “Giffen goods” but there may be something in what you say.

    2. Bazman
      July 30, 2013

      Or they drink as drink is a cheap escape much cheaper than buying clothes or shoes.

  19. Mike Stallard
    July 28, 2013

    I am afraid that, present company always excepted, we are not saintly people. Those who firmly believe that man is a “softie” determined to go out of her way to help other people with money, time and treasure, are very dangerous indeed because they have to turn their eyes away from real suffering – as in the social Service Children fiasco or the NHS wards.

    We need a lot of encouragement to spend our lives helping others. And that means money.

    If people can become rich, recognised and comfortable by running up new ideas, better ways of doing things, looking after other people when sick, so much the better. At the moment, this is not really happening. Instead it pays to work for the unproductive government or at least to be in cahoots with the unproductive government.

  20. Alan Wheatley
    July 28, 2013

    I am pleased to see you have picked up on a point I have made on the this site more than once, that growth needs to be adjusted for population.

    Your comparison between Japan and UK & USA is revealing and appreciated.

  21. Lindsay McDougall
    July 28, 2013

    Spot on. On a related topic, in the Home Counties, to what extent is the high level of projected development that we do not want dependent on the high level of immigration that we did not and do not want?

  22. Bazman
    July 30, 2013

    I wonder how many of the immigrants have handed themselves in after reading the billboards about being arrested if they do not. Not many I suppose, as we are told that most cannot read English.

Comments are closed.