Monday, October 10, 2011

Richer than Ever Before

There has never been a better time to be human. Even in the depths of the global Great Recession, average per capita incomes are higher than they have been for most of human history. This is true in rich and poor countries alike, and within developed countries it's true at all income levels. The rich are getting richer while the poor and middle class are getting richer too!

It's true, the last couple years have been a struggle for many around the world. Lots of people, including me, lost their jobs to the Great Recession. However, despite the hardships of the last couple years, we are still living in the greatest era in human history.

According to the World Bank, world GDP per capita in 2010 was $6,035, which is 99.77% of 2008's peak of $6,049. (All dollar amounts in this entry are expressed in constant 2000 US dollars.) GDP per capita in 2010 was 3.04% higher than in 2009, nearly twice the 1970-2008 average of 1.60% growth. The world economy is well on the way to recovery, and there's every reason to expect 2011's GDP per capita to be higher than ever before.

The Great Recession is clearly visible in the graph to the right, as are a handful of other global recessions and slowdowns over the past forty years. The Great Recession is clearly the sharpest decline the world has seen lately, and GDP per capita in 2009 was less than it had been in 2006. Even so, incomes were 2.59% higher in 2009 than in 2005. Indeed, in 2006, for the first time in human history, the average human being earned $16 per day. The average person has not earned less than $16 per day since 2005. To put that another way, the five most prosperous years in human history so far were 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

This is especially true for the low- and middle-income countries, who as a group have not seen a decline in GDP per capita since 1983. The 2010 GDP per capita of $1,834 was the highest ever recorded for this group of countries, and a full 6.26% higher than the previous record set in 2009. The past decade in particular has seen incredible growth, averaging 4.53% growth in GDP per capita per year. Income per person in 2010 was three times higher than in 1969.

An income of $1,834 per year might not sound like a lot to those of us in first-world countries. Indeed, it's just a little more than $5 per day. But 2010 was the first year ever when the average person in these countries earned $5 per day. It's not a lot, but it's more than they have ever had before. As an indication of just how fast the poor countries are joining the rich, the $4-per-day threshold was first passed as recently as 2006, and the $3-per-day threshold in 1998.

The Great Recession has hit high-income countries much harder than low- and middle-income countries. GDP per capita in high-income countries was still 2.23% lower in 2010 than the 2007 peak of $28,095. Per capita incomes were higher in 2006, 2007 and 2008 than they were in 2010, and even 2005 was higher than 2009.

However, the hardships of the last few years have not undone the prosperity we have achieved. At the lowest point of the Great Recession, in 2009, income per person in high-income countries was $26,807. This was a full 6.92% higher than the heights of the dot-com bubble in 2000. As this video posted by Greg Mankiw notes, "Even after the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, US per capita income is still higher than at the peak of the 1990s boom."

We are also on the road to recovery; incomes grew 2.47% between 2009 and 2010. If we achieve a similar level of growth in 2011, we will set a new record for the most prosperous year ever. Even if we don't set a new record, GDP per capita in the high-income countries will still be twice what it was in the mid-1970s.

Despite the great recession, incomes are at or very close to the highest they have ever been for most people around the world. This is especially true for poorer countries, but it's also true for the recession-ravaged wealthy countries. No generation in human history has had it better than we do. There has never been a better time to be human.

No comments:

Post a Comment