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.
The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?
We look at mobility rates as well as COVID-19 recovery rates for 41 economies, to see which countries are reopening for business.
The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?
COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt—but after months of uncertainty, it seems that the situation is slowly taking a turn for the better.
Today’s chart measures the extent to which 41 major economies are reopening, by plotting two metrics for each country: the mobility rate and the COVID-19 recovery rate:
- Mobility Index
This refers to the change in activity around workplaces, subtracting activity around residences, measured as a percentage deviation from the baseline.
- COVID-19 Recovery Rate
The number of recovered cases in a country is measured as the percentage of total cases.
Data for the first measure comes from Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which relies on aggregated, anonymous location history data from individuals. Note that China does not show up in the graphic as the government bans Google services.
COVID-19 recovery rates rely on values from CoronaTracker, using aggregated information from multiple global and governmental databases such as WHO and CDC.
Reopening Economies, One Step at a Time
In general, the higher the mobility rate, the more economic activity this signifies. In most cases, mobility rate also correlates with a higher rate of recovered people in the population.
Here’s how these countries fare based on the above metrics.
|Country||Mobility Rate||Recovery Rate||Total Cases||Total Recovered|
Mobility data as of May 21, 2020 (Latest available). COVID-19 case data as of May 29, 2020.
In the main scatterplot visualization, we’ve taken things a step further, assigning these countries into four distinct quadrants:
1. High Mobility, High Recovery
High recovery rates are resulting in lifted restrictions for countries in this quadrant, and people are steadily returning to work.
New Zealand has earned praise for its early and effective pandemic response, allowing it to curtail the total number of cases. This has resulted in a 98% recovery rate, the highest of all countries. After almost 50 days of lockdown, the government is recommending a flexible four-day work week to boost the economy back up.
2. High Mobility, Low Recovery
Despite low COVID-19 related recoveries, mobility rates of countries in this quadrant remain higher than average. Some countries have loosened lockdown measures, while others did not have strict measures in place to begin with.
Brazil is an interesting case study to consider here. After deferring lockdown decisions to state and local levels, the country is now averaging the highest number of daily cases out of any country. On May 28th, for example, the country had 24,151 new cases and 1,067 new deaths.
3. Low Mobility, High Recovery
Countries in this quadrant are playing it safe, and holding off on reopening their economies until the population has fully recovered.
Italy, the once-epicenter for the crisis in Europe is understandably wary of cases rising back up to critical levels. As a result, it has opted to keep its activity to a minimum to try and boost the 65% recovery rate, even as it slowly emerges from over 10 weeks of lockdown.
4. Low Mobility, Low Recovery
Last but not least, people in these countries are cautiously remaining indoors as their governments continue to work on crisis response.
With a low 0.05% recovery rate, the United Kingdom has no immediate plans to reopen. A two-week lag time in reporting discharged patients from NHS services may also be contributing to this low number. Although new cases are leveling off, the country has the highest coronavirus-caused death toll across Europe.
The U.S. also sits in this quadrant with over 1.7 million cases and counting. Recently, some states have opted to ease restrictions on social and business activity, which could potentially result in case numbers climbing back up.
Over in Sweden, a controversial herd immunity strategy meant that the country continued business as usual amid the rest of Europe’s heightened regulations. Sweden’s COVID-19 recovery rate sits at only 13.9%, and the country’s -93% mobility rate implies that people have been taking their own precautions.
COVID-19’s Impact on the Future
It’s important to note that a “second wave” of new cases could upend plans to reopen economies. As countries reckon with these competing risks of health and economic activity, there is no clear answer around the right path to take.
COVID-19 is a catalyst for an entirely different future, but interestingly, it’s one that has been in the works for a while.
Without being melodramatic, COVID-19 is like the last nail in the coffin of globalization…The 2008-2009 crisis gave globalization a big hit, as did Brexit, as did the U.S.-China trade war, but COVID is taking it to a new level.
—Carmen Reinhart, incoming Chief Economist for the World Bank
Will there be any chance of returning to “normal” as we know it?
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