Day: July 22, 2012

The Chart That Explains Your World

Everyone agrees China is a rising power. Some people think it can rise indefinitely; some people think its rise will decelerate; and some think that its rise is illusory. But it’s hard to put even the People’s Republic stellar growth rates into perspective without taking a longer view.

The chart above shows the ratios of Chinese to other countries’ GDP per capita. It’s based on painstaking work by Angus Maddison to reconstruct long time series about output. There are reasons to think that Maddison’s estimates before 1900 are a little speculative, but they are widely agreed to capture the broad picture fairly well.

Interpreting the chart is straightforward. The y-axis shows how many times richer each country or continent is than China. In 1960, for instance, the United States was about 20 times as rich per head as China, while Britain was about 15 times as rich and Japan and Russia about 8 times as rich. The chart is showing us, then, just how far behind the rest of the world China had slipped. And note that a lot of that is due to the early Communist regime; the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward are visible in the time trends as the post-World War II peaks in the ratios (since Chinese output fell dramatically as Western and Soviet output continued to rise).

Over the past 30 years, however, those ratios have plummeted. The United States and other developed countries are still much richer than China, but they are no longer vastly richer. Those falling ratios portend just how dramatic the shift in the global distribution of wealth, and of power, from the North Atlantic community will be.


Morning Linkage

  • Conor Friedersdorf argues that R2P is a decision for Congress to make, not the Executive Branch. 
  • Laura at 11d has advice from big student loan debtors. Note the part about not getting an MA that serves little professional purpose.
  • Daniel Little has a very nice post on Chuck Tilly’s Durable Inequality and the growing income gap in the United States.
  • Sandy Levinson makes an impassioned plea for putting gun control back on the table. 
  • A note on “Aurora” and gun control: my basic view is that we’re so swamped with guns that I don’t see much point in most restrictions. But telling people not to discuss the relationship among guns, violence, and public policy after a mass murderer opens fire in a crowded theater strikes me as, well, idiotic. 
  • Rita Abrahamsen on what the Olympics tell us about the dangers of private security. 
  • Kindred argues that the Fed’s failure to act derives from political constraints and points to Republicans pressing Bernake not to take additional action to stimulate the economy. The question remains, however, what mechanisms translates that pressure into constraint?
  • Kieran Healy follows up his earlier post with data and charts on the distribution of assault deaths in the United States.
  • Emmanuel at International Political Economy Zone has some cutting things to say about Yale’s venture in Singapore. 
  • My natural-gas backup generator has seen a lot of use lately. Here’s David Silbey’s July 11 piece explaining why that’s not an indicator of the decline and fall of the American Empire
  • In the excellent questions department, “Why is political science the only social science field to have an institutionalized sub-field of ethics inside of it?

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