I have a few other things on today, so these are just a couple of charts that are background for a post I may write tomorrow, prompted by this article.
The first shows the countries with the highest GDP per capita in 1900, expressed in international dollars, and taken from the Maddison project database. Where I stopped is a bit arbitrary, but there is a reasonable step down from Chile to the next group of countries (ones in Europe). Which countries make the list doesn’t depend on the precise choice of year (I checked 1913 and got the same list).
I’ve also marked, in red, the countries that wouldn’t make a top-tier grouping today.
And here is the top tier of countries now, ranked by real GDP per hour worked (a better indicator of the capacity/possibilities of an economy, but for which there isn’t data for the earlier periods). I’ve included a slightly larger number of countries, recognising that some of the very small ones (notably Luxembourg and Iceland) weren’t in the 1900 database. For Ireland, I have followed the local authorities’ guidance and used their “modified GNI measure”.
I find both the similarities and differences striking.
Most of the top-tier countries in 1900 are still there now. Most of today’s top-tier countries (recognising that the oil exporters generally aren’t in the database) were there in 1900. Long-term persistence in prosperity is well-recognised in the literature.
But there are differences too.
In 1900, four Anglo countries topped the chart. These days, only the United States is anywhere near the top.
And of the five southern hemisphere countries on the list in 1900, only one (Australia) is still there today. All of the four who have dropped off the list are well below the lowest country on it (Ireland).
And the only Asian country that yet makes the list is Singapore (although Taiwan and Japan would take two of the next three places).