We cannot quite share this shock and horror at the news that industrial output is down:
Britain’s industrial plight was laid bare today after official figures showed output at the end of 2015 fell faster than at any time over the past three years.
Industrial production contracted by 1.1pc in December from the previous month, the biggest monthly drop since September 2012 and much worse than the 0.1pc decrease expected by economists.
And for manufacturing:
The ONS also revealed that manufacturing production fell 0.2pc in December, the third consecutive monthly decline. The last time the UK’s manufacturing sector contracted for three months in a row was during the depths of the Great Recession in 2009.
Compared with a year earlier, manufacturing output fell 1.7pc, against expectations for a 1.4pc decline.
One reason we’re not all that worried is that manufacturing output is some 10% of GDP, meaning that a 2% fall in the sector is 0.2% of the economy as a whole. Industrial output is essentially energy and mining plus manufacturing and that’s not much larger as a portion of the economy. And we have all noted that the prices of fuels have dropped recently, meaning that an index of the value of what is produced is going to fall whatever happens to the volume of what has been produced. Essentially, these are minor changes in a minor part of the economy.
A second reason we’re not all that bovverd is that there isn’t anything special about manufacturing or industrial output. Sure, they’re nice things to have but they are no more valid or valuable than any other form of economic activity. The standard trope that making things you can drop on your foot is the only important form of production is simply wrong.
And the third reason we’re not worried is this:
David Cameron has hailed Britain’s technology sector as “extraordinary”, after a report revealed companies are generating £161bn for the economy.
According to the Tech Nation report, now in its second year, the digital economy grew 32pc faster than the rest of the economy between 2011 and 2014, and is creating new jobs at an unprecedented rate.
The sector accounts for 1.56m jobs across the UK, with this workforce growing by more than 10pc over the three-year period – three times faster than the wider UK job market.
Yes, obviously, that’s being bigged up by that quango but this is exactly what we would like to be happening. The current industrial revolution is in those digital thingies, those 1s and 0s being placed in precise rows. We Brits pioneered the first industrial revolution, rather lagged in the second and third, but seem to be doing well at the fourth. And just like doing well at the first made us relatively richer than everyone else, lagging at the next two led to a bit of relative poverty, getting this one right will lead to relative riches again.
And this is what an economy is supposed to do: over time move from doing that doesn’t add very much value old stuff to the adding lots of value new stuff. Something we seem to be doing rather well. We wouldn’t say that all is lovely in the rose garden but it’s most certainly not doom and gloom.