Mapped: The World’s Largest Economies, Sized by GDP (1970-2020)
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Visualizing The World’s Largest Economies (1970-2020)
Global GDP has grown massively over the last 50 years, but not all countries experienced this economic growth equally.
In 1970, the world’s nominal GDP was just $3.4 trillion. Fast forward a few decades and it had reached $85.3 trillion by 2020. And thanks to shifting dynamics, such as industrialization and the rise and fall of political regimes, the world’s largest economies driving this global growth have changed over time.
This slideshow using graphics from Ruben Berge Mathisen show the distribution of global GDP among countries in 1970, 1995, and 2020.
Using data from the United Nations, Mathisen collected nominal GDP in U.S. dollars for each country. He then determined each country’s GDP as a share of global GDP and sized each graphic’s bubbles accordingly.
The bubbles were placed according to country latitude and longitude coordinates, but Mathisen programmed the bubbles so that they wouldn’t overlap with each other. For this reason, some countries are slightly displaced from their exact locations on a map.
1970: USSR as a Major Player
In 1970, the U.S. accounted for the largest share of global GDP, making up nearly one-third of the world economy. The table below shows the top 10 economies in 1970.
|Rank||Country||GDP (1970)||Share of Global GDP|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||$1.1T||31.4 %|
|#2||☭ USSR||$433B||12.7 %|
|#3||🇩🇪 Germany||$216B||6.3 %|
|#4||🇯🇵 Japan||$213B||6.2 %|
|#5||🇫🇷 France||$148B||4.3 %|
|#6||🇬🇧 UK||$131B||3.8 %|
|#7||🇮🇹 Italy||$113B||3.3 %|
|#8||🇨🇳 China||$93B||2.7 %|
|#9||🇨🇦 Canada||$89B||2.6 %|
|#10||🇮🇳 India||$62B||1.8 %|
Then a global superpower, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) came in second place on the list of the world’s largest economies.
In the years leading up to 1970, the USSR had seen impressive GDP growth largely due to adopting Western technologies that increased productivity. However, the USSR’s economy began to stagnate in the ‘70s, and eventually collapsed in 1991.
On the other side, Germany (including both West and East Germany) was the third-largest economy in 1970 after rising from economic ruin following World War II. West Germany’s “Economic Miracle” is largely credited to the introduction of a new currency to replace the Riechsmark, large tax cuts brought in to spur investment, and the removal of price controls.
1995: Japan Begins to Slow Down
By 1995, the U.S. still held the top spot on the world’s largest economies list, but the country’s share of global GDP had shrunk.
|Rank||Country/Area||GDP (1995)||Share of Global GDP|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||$7.6T||24.4 %|
|#2||🇯🇵 Japan||$5.5T||17.7 %|
|#3||🇩🇪 Germany||$2.6T||8.3 %|
|#4||🇫🇷 France||$1.6T||5.1 %|
|#5||🇬🇧 UK||$1.3T||4.3 %|
|#6||🇮🇹 Italy||$1.2T||3.8 %|
|#7||🇧🇷 Brazil||$778B||2.5 %|
|#8||🇨🇳 China||$734B||2.4 %|
|#9||🇪🇸 Spain||$615B||2.0 %|
|#10||🇨🇦 Canada||$606B||1.9 %|
Meanwhile, Japan had leapfrogged into second place and nearly tripled its share of the global economy compared to 1970. A number of factors played into Japan’s economic success:
- Large business groups known as keiretsu used their connections to undercut rivals
- Fierce competition between companies encouraged innovation
- Tax breaks and cheap credit stimulated investment
- The well-educated workforce was willing to work extremely long hours
But around 1990, the country’s economy had actually begun to slow down. Japan’s decreasing labor force participation rate and diminishing returns from higher education both could have played a role.
2020: The World’s Largest Economies Shift Again
In 2020, the United States continued to hold onto the number one spot among the world’s largest economies. However, Japan’s slowdown created a rare opportunity for a new powerhouse to emerge: China.
|Rank||Country/Area||GDP (2020)||Share of Global GDP|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||$20.9T||24.5 %|
|#2||🇨🇳 China||$14.7T||17.3 %|
|#3||🇯🇵 Japan||$5.1T||5.9 %|
|#4||🇩🇪 Germany||$3.8T||4.5 %|
|#5||🇬🇧 UK||$2.8T||3.2 %|
|#6||🇮🇳 India||$2.7T||3.1 %|
|#7||🇫🇷 France||$2.6T||3.1 %|
|#8||🇮🇹 Italy||$1.9T||2.2 %|
|#9||🇨🇦 Canada||$1.6T||1.9 %|
|#10||🇰🇷 South Korea||$1.6T||1.9 %|
China’s economy saw incredible growth following economic reforms in 1978. The reforms encouraged the formation of private businesses, liberalized foreign trade and investment, relaxed state control over some prices, and invested in industrial production and the education of its workforce. With profit incentives introduced to private businesses, productivity increased.
China was also positioned as a cheap manufacturing hub for multinational corporations. Since rising into contention, the country has become the world’s largest exporter.
India held the title of the sixth largest economy in 2020. Similar to China, the country’s growth came from relaxed economic restrictions, and it has seen particularly strong growth within the service sector, including telecommunications, IT, and software.
With dynamics shifting, which countries will be on the leaderboard in another 25 years?
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Charting the Rise of America’s Debt Ceiling
By June 1, a debt ceiling agreement must be finalized. The U.S. could default if politicians fail to act—causing many stark consequences.
Charting the Rise of America’s Debt Ceiling
Every few years the debt ceiling standoff puts the credit of the U.S. at risk.
In January, the $31.4 trillion debt limit—the amount of debt the U.S. government can hold—was reached. That means U.S. cash reserves could be exhausted by June 1 according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Should Republicans and Democrats fail to act, the U.S. could default on its debt, causing harmful effects across the financial system.
The above graphic shows the sharp rise in the debt ceiling in recent years, pulling data from various sources including the World Bank, U.S. Department of Treasury, and Congressional Research Service.
Raising the debt ceiling is nothing new. Since 1960, it’s been raised 78 times.
In the 2023 version of the debate, Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is asking for cuts in government spending. However, President Joe Biden argues that the debt ceiling should be increased without any strings attached. Adding to this, the sharp uptick in interest rates have been a clear reminder that rising debt levels can be precarious.
Consider that historically, interest payments on the U.S. debt have been equal to about half the cost of defense. More recently, however, the cost of servicing the debt has risen, and is now almost on par with the defense budget as a whole.
Key Moments In Recent History
Over history, raising the debt ceiling has often been a typical process for Congress.
Unlike today, agreements to raise the debt ceiling were often negotiated faster. Increased political polarization over recent years has contributed to standoffs with damaging consequences.
For instance, in 2011, an agreement was made just days before the deadline. As a result, S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ for the first time ever. This delay cost an estimated $1.3 billion in extra costs to the government that year.
Before then, the government shut down twice between 1995 and 1996 as President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich went head-to-head. Over a million government workers were furloughed for a week in late November 1995 before the debt limit was raised.
What Happens Now?
Today, Republicans and Democrats have less than two weeks to reach an agreement.
If Congress doesn’t make a deal the result would be that the government can’t pay its bills by taking on new debt. Payment for federal workers would be suspended, certain pension payments would get stalled, and interest payments on Treasuries would be delayed. The U.S. would default under these conditions.
Three Potential Consequences
Here are some of the potential knock-on effects if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by June 1, 2023:
1. Higher Interest Rates
Typically investors require higher interest payments as the risk of their debt holdings increase.
If the U.S. fails to pay interest payments on its debt and gets a credit downgrade, these interest payments would likely rise higher. This would impact the U.S. government’s interest payments and the cost of borrowing for businesses and households.
High interest rates can slow economic growth since it disincentivizes spending and taking on new debt. We can see in the chart below that a gloomier economic picture has already been anticipated, showing its highest probability since 1983.
Historically, recessions have increased U.S. deficit spending as tax receipts fall and there is less income to help fund government activities. Additional fiscal stimulus spending can also exacerbate any budget imbalance.
Finally, higher interest rates could spell more trouble for the banking sector, which is already on edge after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.
A rise in interest rates would push down the value of outstanding bonds, which banks hold as capital reserves. This makes it even more challenging to cover deposits, which could further increase uncertainty in the banking industry.
2. Eroding International Credibility
As the world’s reserve currency, any default on U.S. Treasuries would rattle global markets.
If its role as an ultra safe asset is undermined, a chain reaction of negative consequences could spread throughout the global financial system. Often Treasuries are held as collateral. If these debt payments fail to get paid to investors, prices would plummet, demand could crater, and global investors may shift investment elsewhere.
Investors are factoring in the risk of the U.S. not paying its bondholders.
As we can see this in the chart below, U.S. one-year credit default swap (CDS) spreads are much higher than other nations. These CDS instruments, quoted in spreads, offer insurance in the event that the U.S. defaults. The wider the spread, the greater the expected risk that the bondholder won’t be paid.
The US now has higher credit risk than Mexico, Greece, and Brazil pic.twitter.com/je4klBvHZ6
— Genevieve Roch-Decter, CFA (@GRDecter) May 11, 2023
Additionally, a default could add fuel to the perception of global de-dollarization. Since 2001, the USD has slipped from 73% to 58% of global reserves.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to steep financial sanctions, China and India are increasingly using their currencies for trade settlement. President of Russia Vladimir Putin says that two-thirds of trade is settled in yuan or roubles. Recently, China has also entered non-dollar agreements with Brazil and Kazakhstan.
3. Financial Sector Turmoil
Back at home, a debt default would hurt investor confidence in the U.S. economy. Coupled with already higher interest rates impacting costs, financial markets could see added strain. Lower investor demand could depress stock prices.
Is the Debt Ceiling Concept Flawed?
Today, U.S. government debt stands at 129% of GDP.
The annualized cost of servicing this debt has jumped an estimated 90% compared to 2011, driven by increasing debt and higher interest rates.
Some economists argue that the debt ceiling helps keep the government more fiscally responsible. Others suggest that it’s structured poorly, and that if the government approves a level of spending in its budget, that debt ceiling increases should come more automatically.
In fact, it’s worth noting that the U.S. is one of the few countries worldwide with a debt ceiling.
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