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11.2 The ‘Great Divergence’

Nothing in human history compares with the impact that the Industrial Revolution

has had on the living conditions for the world’s population. Sustained

growth of both total GDP and GDP per capita date from the great transformation

unleashed by this event. While economic historians continue to debate

the origins, timing and quantitative aspects of the Industrial Revolution, there

is no doubt that during the last 250 years the main consequence of this event

has been a distinctive regime change as the world economy began to experience

a new epoch of what Kuznets (1966) called ‘modern economic growth’.

It should also be noted that modern economic growth and capitalism are

synonymous, for as Baumol (2002) writes:

what is clear to historians and laypersons alike is that capitalism is unique in the

extraordinary growth record is has been able to achieve in its recurring industrial

revolutions that have produced an outpouring of material wealth unlike anything

previously seen in human history.

Baumol’s point had been recognized by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels over

150 years earlier in their Communist Manifesto of 1847 when they observed

that ‘the bourgeoisie has created more massive and more colossal productive

forces than have all preceding generations together’.

In contrast to most of human history, the modern epoch has been characterized

by a population explosion, rising life expectancy, rapid urbanization,

diversified patterns of employment and steadily rising income per capita for

the world as a whole (Easterlin, 1996). However, because the Industrial

Revolution and economic growth have spread unevenly across the world, the

modern era of human history has also witnessed the emergence of unprecedented

global inequality. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century the

world economy has experienced what Pomeranz (2000) calls the ‘Great Divergence’

and Pritchett (1997) refers to as ‘Divergence, Big Time’. International

differences in living standards, measured by real income per capita, are

enormous even after making adjustments to the estimates that take into account

variations in purchasing power and household production.

The ‘Great Divergence’ of income per capita is a modern phenomenon.

Before the nineteenth century, for the vast majority of the economies and

peoples of the world, the process of economic growth was ‘sporadic and

inconsistent’. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that

growth spread to many living in the Third World. As Table 11.1 shows, living

Table 11.1 Levela and rate of growthb of GDP per capita: world and major regions, 0–1998 AD

Region 0a 1000a 1820a 1998a 0–1000b 1000–1820b 1820–1998b

Western Europe 450 400 1 232 17 921 –0.01 0.14 1.51

Western off-shoots 400 400 1 201 26 146 0.00 0.13 1.75

Japan 400 425 669 20 413 0.01 0.06 1.93

Average, Group A 443 405 1 130 21 470 –0.01 0.13 1.67

Latin America 400 400 665 5 795 0.00 0.06 1.22

Eastern Europe & former USSR 400 400 667 4 354 0.00 0.06 1.06

Asia 450 450 575 2 936 0.00 0.03 0.92

Africa 425 416 418 1 368 –0.00 0.00 0.67

Average, Group B 444 440 573 3 102 –0.00 0.03 0.95

World 444 435 667 5 709 –0.00 0.05 1.21

Notes:

a Measured in 1990 international dollars.

b Annual average compound growth.

Source: Maddison (2001), Table 1.2.

standards across the world, as measured by GDP per capita, did not improve

in any significant way during the first one thousand years AD. However, since

about 1750, beginning in Great Britain, the phenomenon of sustained modern

economic growth has become ‘the defining feature of human history’ and by

1950 embraced a third of the population of the earth.

Contemporary differences in living standards are themselves the product of

differences in growth rates that have been observed during the last 200 years

and are highlighted in Table 11.2. Three important commonly used measures

of living standards are represented, namely gross national income (GNI) per

capita measured in international dollars (PPP – purchasing power parity – $),

life expectancy, and the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a

composite measure of three equally weighted basic components, namely, real

income per capita (PPP US$ = Ypc) adjusted to reflect the assumption of

rapidly diminishing marginal utility of income above the world average;

longevity as measured by life expectancy at birth (L); and educational attainment

(E) captured by the adult literacy rate (weighted 2/3) and the combined

gross primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment ratio (weighted 1/3). Therefore,

the HDI estimate for any economy (j) is a simple weighted average of

Ypcj + Lj + Ej. Although there are serious index number problems in using

the HDI as a measure of living standards and the HDI has come in for a

considerable amount of criticism, it has nevertheless proved to be a useful

additional development indicator, complementing, but not replacing, the traditional

‘commodity’-based measures of progress such as income per capita.

While there has been unprecedented divergence between the income per

capita of the OECD economies and many developing countries, Crafts (1999,

2000) has argued that a more optimistic picture of the progress of human

welfare emerges if we examine long-run trends in the HDI. For example, the

HDI scores for many poor countries in 2002 are well ahead of the estimated

1870 HDI scores for the leading countries of that time (current G7 countries)

as measured by their per capita income. Crafts concludes that by taking a

broader view of progress, it is ‘likely that the growth of living standards since

1870 as measured by real national income per capita is substantially underestimated’

(Crafts, 2001; see also Becker et al., 2003; Crafts, 2003).

Data on total population for each country is also included in Table 11.2.

The 40 countries included accounted for 4795.7 million (79 per cent) of the

world’s population of 6054 million in 2000. Important points to note include

the close correlation between income per capita, life expectancy and the HDI;

the underperformance of Botswana and South Africa on their life expectancy

and HDI scores relative to their position in the income per capita ranking; the

ratio of the USA’s GNI per capita to Sierra Leone’s is a staggering 72–1

(note, the highest GNI per capita recorded by the World Bank for 2002 was

Luxembourg, with 51,160 PPP$).

The renaissance of economic growth research 583

Table 11.2 Three indicators of living standards: 40 countries

Country GNI per capita Life expectancy HDI, 2000b Total population

(PPP$), 2002a in years, 2000b (millions), 2000c

USA 35 060 77.0 0.939 282

Canada 28 070 78.8 0.940 31

Australia 26 960 78.9 0.939 19

Hong Kong 26 810 79.5 0.888 4.4d

Germany 26 220 77.7 0.925 82

France 26 180 78.6 0.928 59

Japan 26 070 81.0 0.933 127

UK 25 870 77.7 0.928 60

Italy 25 320 78.5 0.913 58

Singapore 23 090 77.6 0.885 2.3d

Korea, Rep. 16 480 74.9 0.882 47

Czech Rep. 14 500 74.9 0.849 10

Hungary 12 810 71.3 0.835 10

Saudi Arabia 11 480 71.6 0.759 21

Poland 10 130 73.3 0.833 39

Argentina 9 930 73.4 0.844 37

South Africa 9 870 52.1 0.695 43

Chile 9 180 75.3 0.831 15

Mexico 8 540 72.6 0.796 98

Malaysia 8 280 72.5 0.782 23

Russian Fed. 7 820 66.1 0.781 146

Botswana 7 770 40.3 0.572 2

Brazil 7 250 67.7 0.757 170

Thailand 6 680 70.2 0.762 61

Iran 6 340 68.9 0.721 64

Turkey 6 210 69.8 0.742 65

Ukraine 4 650 68.1 0.748 50

China 4 390 70.5 0.726 1 261

Egypt 3 710 67.3 0.642 64

Indonesia 2 990 66.2 0.684 210

India 2 570 63.3 0.577 1 016

Vietnam 2 240 68.2 0.688 79

Zimbabwe 2 120 49.2 0.551 12

Pakistan 1 940 60.0 0.499 138

Bangladesh 1 720 59.4 0.478 130

Kenya 990 50.8 0.513 30

Nigeria 780 51.7 0.462 127

Ethiopia 720 43.9 0.327 64

Tanzania 550 51.1 0.440 34

Sierra Leone 490 38.9 0.275 5

Worlde 7 570 (A) 66.9 (A) 0.722 (A) 4 795.7 (T)

Notes:

a Gross national income per capita, PPP$, World Development Indicators, 2003, World Bank.

b Human Development Index and Life Expectancy, Human Development Report 2002, United

Nations.

c Total population, World Development Report 2002, World Bank.

d Hong Kong and Singapore data from Human Development Report 2002.

e A = Average, T = Total.