It did not take until 1960 for global output to return to 1914 levels

Ian B gives us this interesting number in the comments:

It might be due to a lack of world wars (it took until 1960 for world economic output to return to 1914 levels),

It’s a fun number but sadly it’s wrong.

The Maddison Project numbers are chained (ie, inflation adjusted) and per capita, and in 1913 world GDP per capita was $1,543.

In 1960 it was $2,764. In 1940 it was $2,181. In 1950 it was $2,104, and in 1951 it had reached above that 1940 number at $2,191.

Sadly, we don’t have the world number calculated for every year….in fact we’ve only got it for 1914, 1940 and then 1950 onwards.

We do have fuller figures for smaller areas: Latin and North America both grew during WWI. Western Europe was back up to pre WWI numbers by 1924. Even the Soviet Union recovered from the Civil War shite by 1930.

I just cannot see anything at all that could possibly support the initial claim.

And further, do note that these are GDP per capita numbers.

If we add in the number of humans then in 1914 it was some 1.75 billion, in 1927 some 2 billion and in 1960 3 billion. So gross economic output was obviously higher if there were more people with a higher GDP per capita.

And note an implication of IanB’s claim. If gross output in 1960 was the same as that in 1914, but we have 50% more people, then each of those people must be, on average, 33% poorer. Which isn’t, I think, a claim that we’d really want to make.

It’s a fun number alright, just don’t think it’s accurate.

11 thoughts on “It did not take until 1960 for global output to return to 1914 levels”

  1. Do we have reasonably reliable (albeit probably estimated) equivalent numbers going backwards to 1800 or 1750?

    I ask because I get sick of the idea leftists return to, the Olympics opening ceremony idea – of rosy-cheeked farm lasses leading idyllic lives, soon to be destroyed by those capitalists of the industrial revolution. One of our commentators here even suggested that nutritional levels DROPPED in the UK through the 19th century.

  2. Tim’s link has a variety of data points at 1700, 1720, 1750, 1775, and then right the way through the 19th Century. UK is populated for all of them that I can see.


    1700 (England) – adjusted $1578
    1800 (UK) – $2097
    1900 (UK) – $4492

    Although, we do need to note that “nutritional levels” could be down to declining food quality, i.e. poor food supply mechanisms, as part of populations moving away from the areas of food production, rather than declining personal income (and income and per capita GDP are unreliably connected) or increases in food prices.

  3. Well, I dunno if that was worth a whole post. Two things. Firstly it came from the usually reliable Stephen Davies (the libertarian inclined historian) in a talk I watched, and secondly I think I fucked up and he said world trade levels, by which he might have meant something different, like the amount of international trade across borders etc. I’ll try and dig up whichever talk it was.

    Or maybe I imagined the whole thing. IIRC he was describing how disastrous it is to have two world wars and Roosevelt.

  4. I hope it’s not a delusion of mine though, as I’ve been using it as a “why you shouldn’t have two world wars and a Roosevelt” factoid for some time now.

  5. Ironman>

    “One of our commentators here even suggested that nutritional levels DROPPED in the UK through the 19th century.”

    I have no idea if it’s true, but it’s not totally implausible, either as an average or for certain groups in that society. It seems reasonable to suppose that an urchin who has gone from farming to factorying will have less access to fresh produce, leftovers, and so-on than before, but will have compensatory benefits like shoes, education, the possibility of improving his/her life, and so-on.

  6. There’s the famous (and possibly bad data, but ignoring that) very high age of menarche in the late 19th century, that may be an indicator of poor female nutrition, at least.

  7. @ Dave
    It is quite possible that part-way through the 19th century average levels of nutrition *for the poor* in the UK dropped because public health programmes drastically reduced infant mortality and food production did not rise as quickly as urban population.
    Hence Peel’s repeal of the Corn Laws.
    There was horrifying levels of poverty in London as a consequence of mass immigration, which overwhelmed the rate of growth in jobs: that is a special case.

  8. Phillip Scott Thomas


    If Richie has taught us nothing it’s that the narrative is more important than facts. It’s a good factoid; let it stand. It’s not as if Richie and Co. are bright enough to work out that it’s wrong.

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