Poverty Facts

The history of wealth

Here are some interesting historical insights from Jeffrey Sachs’ book, The End of Poverty.

  • There was no discernible rise in living standards on a global scale from 0 A.D. through 1000 A.D. as population rose from 230m to 270m
  • There was approx. 50% increase in per capita income between 1000 A.D. thr 1800 A.D. as population rose from 270m to 900m
  • Since 1800, global population has risen 6-fold to 6.1b while per capita income rose 9-fold with USA per capita income rising 25-fold and European 15-fold
  • Total worldwide food production more than kept up with the population growth
  • Gross world product rose 49-fold in the past 180 years
  • Every region in the world has had a growth in GNP in the past 180 years … so every nation has gotten wealthier in absolute terms
  • In 1820, the biggest gap between the wealthiest nation (UK) and the poorest (Africa) was 4:1 in per capita income
  • In 1998, the gap between the wealthiest (USA) and poorest (Africa) was 20:1 per capita income
  • This gap is a result of USA GNP growing at an average of 1% more per year (1.7% for USA vs. 0.7% for Africa) over 180 years [the power of compound growth at work!]
  • Modern (last 200 years) economic growth is accompanied first and foremost by urbanization. As agricultural productivity rises, nations need fewer farmers, food prices fall, inducing farmers and especially their children to seek employment in nonfarm activities. There is also an advantage to high-density urban life for most nonfarm activities especially for commerce and services sector.
  • Probably the single largest contributor to prosperity growth is the transmission of technologies and the ideas underlying them driven by science-based ideas of ways to organize production. Ideas are considered nonrival as one person’s use of an idea does not diminish the ability of others to use it as well.
  • In the year 2000, the 400 richest Americans had income totalling $69 billion (yes, billion) averaging $174m for each taxpayer. The combined income of Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal & Uganda in 2000 was $57b (161m people at per capita of $350).

2 thoughts on “The history of wealth

  1. Could it be that the culture is not conducive to wealth production. Big men steal the money given them, natural resource profits go elsewhere, corruption and ignorance and tribal warfare is rampant. The donated money is often used for big projects that don’t pay off instead of trying to increase agricultural production. Disease is rampant and rumors abound, for example, some think HIV was invented and spread by white people to try to get rid of black people. High risk sexual behavior is widespread and women often have no rights. I do not believe changes can be brought about from without.


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