Most projections usually predict that China will be the largest economy by the year 2030. This got me thinking: when exactly did the USA surpass other nations? I knew it was in the 19th century, but I wasn’t sure exactly when.
GDP estimates are always somewhat dicey, and they were even more so in the past. But the above plot* is representative of what you can find online: the USA became #1 in the decade or so after the Civil War. What surprised me is that the nation it surpassed was China! Around 1880 the USA overtook China, and around 2030 China will overtake the USA. That’s 150 years of American singular economic dominance. Curiously, for a period India was #3, just as it will be in 2030 (though its GDP will be far lower than #2 USA by most estimates).
I am aware that on a per capita basis America will be the most affluent large society in the world for decades beyond the point when its economy is not the largest. My only observation is that we are living to see the end of a particular phase in world history.
One aspect of this that I wonder about is that it is a fact that to some extent in the late 19th and early 20th century America refused to take over the role of the world’s preeminent power from the United Kingdom long after it had become the most consequential economic force. To be frank, it was clear in the early 20th century that the UK was simply longer up to the task, and arguably a great deal of suffering might have been alleviated if the United States had stepped into its natural role earlier. Now I wouldn’t be surprised if the inverse occurred in the second quarter of the 21st century: the USA, like Britain, continues to play the role of hyperpower hegemon longer after it’s able to carry out that role credibly. I hope I’m wrong.
* Data from Barry Ritholtz’s blog.