Over 2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart
All major powers compared by GDP from the year 1 AD
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
Long before the invention of modern day maps or gunpowder, the planet’s major powers were already duking it out for economic and geopolitical supremacy.
Today’s chart tells that story in the simplest terms possible. By showing the changing share of the global economy for each country from 1 AD until now, it compares economic productivity over a mind-boggling time period.
Originally published in a research letter by Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan, we’ve updated it based on the most recent data and projections from the IMF. If you like, you can still find the original chart (which goes to 2008) at The Atlantic. It’s also worth noting that the original source for all the data up until 2008 is from the late Angus Maddison, a famous economic historian that published estimates on population, GDP, and other figures going back to Roman times.
A Major Caveat
If you looked at the chart in any depth, you probably noticed a big problem with it. The time periods between data points aren’t equal – in fact, they are not close at all.
The first gap on the x-axis is 1,000 years and the second is 500 years. Then, as we get closer to modernity, the chart uses mostly 10 year intervals. Changing the scale like this is a big data visualization “no no”, as rightly pointed out in a blog post by The Economist.
While we completely agree, we have a made an exception in this case. Why? Because getting good economic data from the early 20th century is already difficult enough – and so trying to find data in regular intervals before then seems like a fool’s errand. Likewise, a stacked bar chart with different years also doesn’t really do this story justice.
We encountered similar historical data issues in our Richest People of Human History graphic, and at the end of the day decided it was primarily for fun. Like today’s chart, it has its share of imperfections – but ultimately, it provides a great amount of context and serves as a conversation starter.
Caveats aside, there are many stories that materialize from this simple chart. They include the colossal impact of the Industrial Revolution on the West, as well as the momentum behind the re-emergence of Asia.
But there’s one other story that ties it all together: the exponential rate of human economic growth that occurred over the last century.
For thousands of years, economic progress was largely linear and linked to population growth. Without machines or technological innovations, one person could only produce so much with their time and resources.
More recently, innovations in technology and energy allowed the “hockey stick” effect to come into play.
It happened in Western Europe and North America first, and now it’s happening in other parts of the world. As this technological playing field evens, economies like China and India – traditionally some of the largest economies throughout history – are now making their big comeback.
Editor’s note: We have adjusted the main graphic as of Sep 10, 2017 to change the description of the chart. It now says “Share of GDP (World Powers)” instead of the previous “Share of world GDP”, which was technically an inaccurate description.
War and Peace: How Violence is Disrupting the Global Economy
This graphic estimates the direct and indirect costs associated with violence, and explores how they are negatively impacting the global economy.
War and Peace: How Violence is Disrupting the Global Economy
Although you may not see it, millions of lives are disrupted by violence everyday.
War, homicide, terrorism, suicide, and sexual assault can be found across the world in various degrees. While certain types of violence can incur costs that result in personal traumas, violence can also create significant economic disruptions.
In today’s Chart of the Week, we visualize data estimates from the Global Peace Index 2019 on the global cost of violence, and its geographical spread.
How is Violence Linked to the Economy?
The Global Peace Index calculates the total cost of violence using purchasing power parity (PPP) by considering three factors:
- Direct costs: Immediate consequences to the victims, perpetrators and the government
- Indirect costs: Delayed economic losses following the violent event, including the after-effects of trauma experienced by the victim
- Multiplier effect: Calculates the additional economic activity that would have accrued if the direct costs of violence had been avoided.
Between 2012-2017, the cost of violence increased by 11% to $14.6 trillion—mainly due to rising violence in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2018, the total cost of violence decreased for the first time in six years to $14.1 trillion. That’s the equivalent of 11.2% of global GDP (PPP), or $1,853 for every person.
In this one year, the $475 billion saved from decreased violence costs was largely due to lower levels of armed conflict in Syria, Ukraine, and Colombia.
The Top 10 Worst Affected Countries
It comes as no surprise that countries affected by conflict incur the greatest costs due to a higher than average death toll, and sizable military expenditures.
Here are the countries with the highest cost of violence according to the report:
|Rank||Country||Cost of violence (% of GDP)|
|#3||🇨🇫 Central African Republic||42%|
|#4||🇰🇵 North Korea||34%|
|#10||🇸🇻 El Salvador||22%|
Since 2017, Venezuela has climbed the ranking and now sits in the top 10, due to continuing political repression and a spiraling economy as a result of hyperinflation.
The Global Composition of Violence
Government spending on military comprises 40% of the global total, or $5.7 trillion in constant purchasing power parity (PPP).
|Type of economic impact||Share of total|
|Internal security expenditure||31.7%|
|Private security expenditure||5.8%|
Naturally, the types of violence costs vary by region, and the most noticeable difference is in military expenditure. It represents 59% of Middle East and North Africa’s violence costs—but only 8% for Central America and the Caribbean.
Interestingly, the Middle East and North Africa boast the lowest levels of violent crime, homicide, and suicide, representing only 4% of the total, compared to South America’s 45%.
Keeping the Peace
Despite today’s chart painting a picture of the world as a dangerous place, it is worth noting that there are two sides to this story.
Of the 163 countries ranked in the index, 86 countries improved their peace score in the last year, with Iceland retaining its number one position for over a decade. In fact, the country has not had any gun murders since the Global Peace Index began in 2007.
Is the recent drop in costs of violence a sign that we are moving towards a more peaceful planet, or just a blip on the radar?
Ranked: The 20 Easiest Countries for Doing Business
Entrepreneurship is challenging at the best of times. Here are the countries where at least starting a new business is easy to do.
Ranked: The 20 Easiest Countries for Doing Business
Contrary to popular belief, the hardest part about running a business may not be finding customers, it’s getting one started.
Depending on the public policies and application processes of your country, you might struggle or succeed in opening and operating a business.
If you live in New Zealand, for example, you can get a new enterprise up and running in half a day. If you live in Luxembourg or Argentina, however, it’s a different story─with the process sometimes taking over a year.
Today’s chart uses data from the World Bank’s annual Doing Business 2020 report, which delves into the ease of doing business in countries around the world.
Measuring the Ease of Doing Business
Now in its 17th year, the Doing Business (DB) report measures how easy it is for someone to start and run a company in an economy, using 12 key factors throughout a business lifecycle:
- Starting a business
- Employing workers
- Dealing with construction permits
- Getting electricity
- Registering property
- Getting credit
- Protecting minority investors
- Paying taxes
- Trading across borders
- Contracting with the government
- Enforcing contracts
- Resolving insolvency
Of the 190 countries reviewed last year, only 115 made it easier for entrepreneurs to do business.
Note to readers: this year’s DB score did not factor in Employing Workers or Contracting with the Government when ranking economies.
Top 20 Easiest Countries to Run a Business
|#1||🇳🇿 New Zealand||86.8|
|#3||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||85.3|
|#5||🇰🇷 South Korea||84|
|#6||🇺🇸 United States||84|
|#8||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||83.5|
|#16||🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||80.9|
|#17||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||80.7|
In the top spot for the fourth year in a row, New Zealand only requires half a day to start a business. Singapore also stands out for having the shortest timeframe when it comes to paying business taxes and enforcing business contracts.
Only two African nations─Rwanda and Mauritius─are listed in the top 50 countries, with Mauritius being the only one to crack the top 20 list.
Latin American economies are noticeably missing from the rankings, as many countries in this region are fraught with bureaucracy and prolonged processes.
Most Improved Scores
Several developed and developing economies made significant strides in 2019 to implement reforms that opened doors for new business owners.
The Doing Business 2020 report shows that the cost of starting a business has fallen over time, particularly in developing economies.
Top 10 Most Improved Economies, 2018-2019
Saudi Arabia made the greatest improvement overall, adding 7.7 points to its score.
Bahrain also made improvements over the most number of factors (9). While Jordan showed improvement in the fewest factors (3), it showed the second highest jump in DB Score.
Gains Among Low-Income Countries
The DB 2020 study also shows that developing economies are making progress: it’s now cheaper than ever before to run a business in developing economies.
However, a significant disparity still remains when we consider the difference in business costs between high-income and low-income economies.
An entrepreneur starting a company in a low-income economy will spend about 50% of per capita income (PCI) to launch a venture, whereas an entrepreneur in a high-income economy spends only 4% PCI to accomplish the same task.
Put another way, entrepreneurs located in the bottom 50 economies spend an average six times more to open a new company as those in a high-income economy.
Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth
Generally, more entrepreneurs will enter a market where they can easily conduct business─adding more value to local economies.
While the rankings clearly illustrate the link between ease of doing business and economic growth, there are still significant barriers in place that not only deter entrepreneurship but also inhibit a relatively simple strategy for growth.
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