In february the coronavirus pandemic struck the world economy with the biggest shock since the second world war. Lockdowns and a slump in consumer spending led to a labour-market implosion in which the equivalent of nearly 500m full-time jobs disappeared almost overnight. World trade shuddered as factories shut down and countries closed their borders. An even deeper economic catastrophe was avoided thanks only to unprecedented interventions in financial markets by central banks, government aid to workers and failing firms, and the expansion of budget deficits to near-wartime levels.
The crash was synchronised. As a recovery takes place, however, huge gaps between the performance of countries are opening up—which could yet recast the world’s economic order. By the end of next year, according to forecasts by the oecd, America’s economy will be the same size as it was in 2019 but China’s will be 10% larger. Europe will still languish beneath its pre-pandemic level of output and could do so for several years—a fate it may share with Japan, which is suffering a demographic squeeze. It is not just the biggest economic blocs that are growing at different speeds. In the second quarter of this year, according to ubs, a bank, the distribution of growth rates across 50 economies was at its widest for at least 40 years.