Historical Wealth: China, Italy, and the United Kingdom

For most of human history, economic growth was small or non-existent. Then the Industrial Revolution happened and everything changed.
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Notes:
GDP per capita in 2019 U.S. dollars. Purchasing Power Parity method.
Source for historical data here.
Source for 2019 data: IMF estimates.
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level ∞
Jan 6, 2020
Notes:

Data is on a log scale.

I converted the numbers in the historical source from 1990 dollars to 2019 dollars.

+3
level ∞
Jan 6, 2020
There might be something to the idea that the Protestant Reformation caused increased economic growth. Clearly, the UK had much faster growth than Italy from 1500-1800.

Max Weber's classic "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" suggests that this was due to changing moral values, especially the Protestant "work ethic".

Another explanation might be that, in Catholic societies, a large percentage of property was owned by the church and a large number of people were monks and nuns who spent countless hours on "unproductive" tasks such as praying for the souls of the deceased.

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level 77
Jan 8, 2020
Ian Morris' Why the West Rules - For Now I think does a pretty good job debunking the idea that Northwestern Europe succeeded due to a stronger work ethic. Good read.
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level 78
Jan 8, 2020
In fact, the catholic doctrine had a problem with money. That's why there were many jewish bankers, notably in Italy. Protestantism allows more individual behaviours and personal enrichment. However, that's not the only explanation. Spain and Portugal were very catholic and were the firsts to make colonies and become very wealthy when China began to stagnate (in the middle of the 15th century, after Zheng He's treasure fleet episode).
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level 67
Jan 8, 2020
I do not know much at all about this, but as I understand, almost all trade between Western Europe and the East went through Italy during the Middle Ages, mostly Venice, Genoa and Pisa. Around 1500, new trade routes were discovered (Vasco da Gama discovered a new way to India, Columbus discovered America). These were less favourable for Italy. This could be another factor.
+1
level ∞
Jan 6, 2020
According to the source data, Italy was the richest country in the world in 1500.
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level 78
Jan 8, 2020
Those data are strange. How could the UK have had a better economy than China in 1300? They were nothing at that time. Edited: ok, it's per capita using the PPP. I guess most of the Chinese population have always been extremely poor.