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The Economic History of the Last 2,000 Years in 1 Little Graph
June 22, 2012 11:54 AM   Subscribe

GDP since Jesus. That headline is a big promise. But here it is: The economic history of the world going back to Year 1 showing the major powers' share of world GDP, from a research letter written by Michael Cembalest, chairman of market and investment strategy at JP Morgan. everything to the left of 1800 is an approximation of population distribution around the world and everything to the right of 1800 is a demonstration of productivity divergences around the world.

Unfortunately the original research letter is no longer available, but there are more charts and discussion in partII and this Economist blog post.

In other words, the current hand-wringing over the ascent of Asia needs to be seen in historical context: as the restoration of Asian economic supremacy after a small blip.

Among the points it presents is that in the first decade of the 21st century, the population of the world produced more economic output than in the first 19 centuries of the common era combined.
posted by Golden Eternity (79 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
What kind of weird-assed timeline is that?!?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:56 AM on June 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


China started contracting from historical norms around the time of the Taipei Rebellion, the deadliest Civil War in human history and the bloodiest conflict of the 19th century. 1850s and 60s. Same time China was attacked by western powers in the Opium Wars. They took a beating on the road to modernization.
posted by stbalbach at 12:00 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Note the completely barmy and misleading x-axis.

In Year 1, India and China were home to one-third and one-quarter of the world's population, respectively. It's hardly surprising, then, that they also commanded one-third and one-quarter of the world's economy, respectively.

I would have assumed that the Roman empire had disproportionate economic clout in the early centuries. Am I wrong?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


China started contracting from historical norms around the time of the Taipei Rebellion, the deadliest Civil War in human history and the bloodiest conflict of the 19th century.

Taiping, not Taipei.
posted by kmz at 12:09 PM on June 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


So the entire world have been going down hill since the 1950s. Is that correct? Did global GDP peaked in the '50s, or am I really misreading this graph (I'm honestly not entirely sure how to read it).
posted by asnider at 12:09 PM on June 22, 2012


I don't have the stats in front of me at the moment (so feel free to disbelieve me) but the "economy" of ancient China (as it were) outclassed ancient Rome in virtually every respect: population, arable land, mineral wealth, military strength, taxation efficiency, general technological innovation and so on. The Chinese did not consider the West to be their equal until very late in the 1800's, and with good reason.
posted by Avenger at 12:10 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


asnider, the graph says nothing about total global GDP. It shows geographic regions' portions of world GDP at different points in time. It also has a wacky variable x-axis.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2012


asnider: "So the entire world have been going down hill since the 1950s. Is that correct? Did global GDP peaked in the '50s, or am I really misreading this graph (I'm honestly not entirely sure how to read it)"

You're really misreading it. It doesn't tell you anything about total global GDP, just about various countries' share of that global GDP.
posted by Perplexity at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


So the entire world have been going down hill since the 1950s. Is that correct? Did global GDP peaked in the '50s, or am I really misreading this graph (I'm honestly not entirely sure how to read it).

The graph shows percentage of world GDP, not total world GDP. For any given date (along the X axis), the percentage of world GDP that a country has is represented by the height of the area shaded that color along the Y Axis. For example in 2008, the US goes from 0 to around 25 on the Y axis, so the US has 25% of the world GDP.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Taiping, not Taipei.
posted by kmz at 12:09 PM on June 22 [+] [!]


Yes, the Taiping Rebellion was the deadliest armed conflict of the 19th century.

The Taipei Rebellion is still ongoing. /ba dum bum
posted by Avenger at 12:13 PM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


whig history meets powerpoint... basically, if you extrapolate your wordview to the ancient past and make some scientific looking graphs it sounds like you are doing something on the internet. oh, and what worldview would that be:
There are enough theories about why the Industrial Revolution happened in northern Europe between 1700 and 1800 to fill a million blog posts. Two well-known recent additions are Guns, Germs and Steel, which focuses on the peculiar and advantageous geography of norther Europe and its natural resources, and A Farewell to Alms, which provides the quirky but often persuasive explanation that the Malthusian Trap ironically populated England with workers whose upper-class values made them biologically better adapted to invent and use modern technology.
upper-class values...
posted by ennui.bz at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do the crosstabs for Judea in the Year 33 show a spike in the winemaking, baking and fishing sectors?
posted by PlusDistance at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


The GDP since the Devil is way more interesting.

Yum. Power.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2012


The graph shows percentage of world GDP, not total world GDP.

This chart shows total global GDP.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two things seemed bizarrely prominent (and somewhat unbelievable, for different reasons) to me when this made the rounds on Facebook the other day: 1, that the US was already a quarter of global GDP by 1900 (zuh?), and 2, that for the entirety of India's colonial history it plummeted as a portion of global productivity (...hrm).
posted by psoas at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2012


I would have assumed that the Roman empire had disproportionate economic clout in the early centuries. Am I wrong?

As mentioned above, China was no slouch in that period. The Han dynasty was one of China's strongest.
posted by kmz at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2012


As the chart below shows, the first increment of time is 1,000 years. The next, same-sized increment is compressed into 500 years. This is followed by increments of some 100 years, 80, 30, 20, even one of 13 years and 27 years. It ends with a few decades and an eight-year increment.

Also known as the Sid Meier time-dilation effect.
posted by PlusDistance at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


This graph amuses me greatly as a civ fan.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


that for the entirety of India's colonial history it plummeted as a portion of global productivity (...hrm).

It makes me wonder whether India or Britain should be ascribed the points there. Seems like a big problem.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're really misreading it. It doesn't tell you anything about total global GDP, just about various countries' share of that global GDP.

I sort of assumed that I was, but I'm looking at the point at 1950 where all of the countries on the graph seem to have peaked...and then they've all trended downward since then. However, I'm realizing that this is a pretty big misreading on my part (I misunderstood how the y-axis worked).
posted by asnider at 12:22 PM on June 22, 2012


This is an example of why I teach my second graders that whenever you see a graph you look at the key BEFORE you look at the graph itself. Don't assume it says what you think it says.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:28 PM on June 22, 2012


Metafilter: I misunderstood how the y-axis worked.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds these kinds of percentage graphs (I think they're called "stacked area charts") utterly unintuitive. They seem to be everywhere lately and they are more confusing then helpful and impossible to read at a glance, so I don't understand why people keep using them.

I find them confusing because they're visually similar to other kinds of graphs, but are read in a very different way. As I understand this one, it's graphing percentage, so as each colour-area gets wider vertically it represents a larger share of the world GDP. But I can't help reading the downslopes as meaning "producing less stuff" when it really means "producing proportionally less stuff compared to the rest of the world". From the comments it seems that I'm not the only one.

Plus, the position of things on the vertical axis doesn't matter that much. So for instance one of the more interesting visual features of this graph is the big orange arch that India makes. But the curve of the arch doesn't actually mean anything, it's just that when the graph was made, India was placed above the United States, whose percentage is expanding. If India was on the bottom it would make a totally different shape, although the values represented would be the same. The colour-areas are on the top and bottom stand out in a different way than the others because of the flat edges, and also I tend to overlook whatever colour-area is at the top, since it looks like a background colour (most graphs we see don't fill up their full vertical height).

Also, it is unclear at first glance whether the coloured areas are meant to be read as occupying the same plane and "pushing each other out of the way" (which I guess is the intention) or whether they should be read as pieces of paper stacked in front of one another (which is how other common kinds of charts work), which would totally change the visual volume of space occupied by each colour.

I don't understand why people like using these, or why they are seemingly trendy right now.
posted by oulipian at 12:33 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


So that's where all the merchants went after Jesus chased them from the temple!
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:41 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I'm reading that graph right, the US is the new India.
posted by mazola at 12:44 PM on June 22, 2012


It really doesn't seem to do a great job for the first 1000 years; the divisions it chooses are modern country boundaries which don't map neatly onto ancient divisions. I mean, the Roman Empire spans three continents at that point, and its economy (especially in global respects) is a topic of contemporary heated debate. Rome and China existed in almost entirely different realms. So anyway, the explanation that "one way to read the graph, very broadly speaking, is that everything to the left of 1800 is an approximation of population distribution around the world" seems like a really superficial way of delving into the actual economic divisions of the earlier periods. Am I misreading this?
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:44 PM on June 22, 2012


I don't understand why people like using these, or why they are seemingly trendy right now.

Because they're useful and informative. Percentages and raes of change generally tell you much more than absolute values do, because they have been normalized. Likewise, it's entirely sensible the the x-axis is basically an inverse logarithmic scale, because the impact and extent of technology increases with time.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:44 PM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


It might not be possible to produce a non-propotional stacked area chart for this data set. You'd have take your approximated GDP numbers, convert them all to a single currency, and figure out some way to correct for 2000 years of inflation.
posted by echo target at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2012


That graph is shit. I want Tufte to swoop in to The Atlantic offices and slap him.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


workers whose upper-class values made them biologically better adapted to invent and use modern technology

Seriously?





I mean....seriously?
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:47 PM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


Incidentally, when did Turkey and Iran move off of Asia?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


This story made me think of a line from Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel, 2312: ”Alex often said that Chinese dominance is the default norm throughout history, except for the brief period of subjugation to Europe.”
posted by gerryblog at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I posted this, a friend pointed out that from the perspective of the chart, the Americas literally don't even exist before 1500.
posted by gerryblog at 12:54 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Aw, it's cute how they refer to a First Century landmass as the "Former USSR."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2012


workers whose upper-class values made them biologically better adapted to invent and use modern technology

Seriously?


Yes. The ones that cared about cleanliness, eating with knives and forks, etc. (affectations derived from the upper class of the time) were more likely to survive the bubonic plague epidemic that swept Europe, aka the Black Death than the ones who rarely washed and ate with their fingers. Think about it.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:57 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW I'm not endorsing that theory. I haven't read the book in question, but it makes intuitive sense.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:00 PM on June 22, 2012


I'm bemused by the "what really India and China??!1" in the article and the subsequent comments. Do students of economics really not know this stuff? I suppose it would explain why anyone takes Niall Ferguson's disingenuous attempts at economic history seriously.
posted by vanar sena at 1:01 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Taiping, not Taipei.

Probably just a taipo.
posted by Kabanos at 1:02 PM on June 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think this chart is hilariously Eurocentric to a degree that is almost unconscionable, and which makes it utterly useless for anything but saying "OMG fear the azn!".

Seriously, the first THOUSAND YEARS in the chart is crammed into one unit of X?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 1:06 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


A THOUSAND YEARS
posted by TheNewWazoo at 1:07 PM on June 22, 2012


Yes. The ones that cared about cleanliness, eating with knives and forks, etc. (affectations derived from the upper class of the time) were more likely to survive the bubonic plague epidemic that swept Europe

Really. I had no idea that eating with a fork kept my ancesters from getting a parasite-borne virus! Here I thought it was the lack of rats in my home and the fact that being farming peasants they didn't live in close proximity to their neighbors.

Seriously, the black death killed a lot of aristocrats too. Maybe because they didn't really use utensils until the 18th or 19th century.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:12 PM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the X-Axis, which is pretty wonky, is less about Eurocentrism and more about presentcentrism; the purpose of the chart is to show how industrialization changed the GDP distribution first by allowing industrialized European countries to start out producing, on a per capita basis, non-industrialized countries, then showing how those differences are evening out again as the rest of the world industrializes. There's no reason to show the older stuff because the graph isn't telling a story about the GEL of Germany in 1400, beyond giving a snap shot of pre-industrial life.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:15 PM on June 22, 2012


The ones that cared about cleanliness, eating with knives and forks, etc. (affectations derived from the upper class of the time) were more likely to survive the bubonic plague epidemic that swept Europe, aka the Black Death than the ones who rarely washed and ate with their fingers. Think about it.

Unless they were stabbing fleas and rats individually with the forks (which were maybe not in fashion at the time of the Black Death?) I doubt this would make much of an impact. Rural communities of poor farmers would have had substantially less exposure to the infected in contrast to crowded port cities with say, rich merchants. While money could maybe buy you the ability to leave to try to find a welcoming and uninfected area, I don't think there's a lot of evidence for the mortality rates to differ among different classes.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes. The ones that cared about cleanliness, eating with knives and forks, etc. (affectations derived from the upper class of the time) were more likely to survive the bubonic plague epidemic that swept Europe, aka the Black Death than the ones who rarely washed and ate with their fingers. Think about it.

Regardless of its accuracy, that's also how I read it, but I think using "biologically" instead of "physiologically" is an error. It implies that their values somehow affected them structurally as an organism, which is obviously false.* It's like putting premium fuel in a car and attributing the performance increase to a better engine.

* Unless you're going to try to claim that the plague exerted a selective pressure that resulted in selection for dandyism, but that's a Pyrrhic victory, because good luck proving that claim.
posted by invitapriore at 1:20 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should note that the "you" in my footnote is the general "you," not the accusatory "you."
posted by invitapriore at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2012


It's lazy writing, alright - though you could argue that copying the adaptive behaviors of the better-off was itself adaptive. But I don't really want to argue that, since I have yet to read the book.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:23 PM on June 22, 2012


Taiping, not Taipei.
posted by kmz at 12:09 PM on June 22 [+] [!]

Yes, the Taiping Rebellion was the deadliest armed conflict of the 19th century.

The Taipei Rebellion is still ongoing. /ba dum bum
posted by Avenger at 7:13 PM on June 22 [4 favorites +] [!]


I'm glad the Typo rebellion is over, though.
posted by davemee at 1:26 PM on June 22, 2012


Anyone else feel like they just got done playing a game of Civilization after looking at that graph?
posted by 3FLryan at 1:33 PM on June 22, 2012


So if "everything to the left" is a measure of population distribution, where is Rome? By any measure (though here I'm going by Colin McEvedy's Atlas of World Population History) the Roman Empire had an enormous percentage of the world population. Again, using McEvedy's numbers, world population in 1CE was roughly 170 million people with Rome controlling just under 45 million of them. China and India were populous, yes, but so was western Europe, the levant, Anatolia and Egypt.

Han China probably only outnumbered it by 5 or so million. And Avenger's comment about China not considering the West ro be its economic equal is pretty baldly disingenuous: China knew very very little of Rome, and I'm lead to understand that most of what they did know was fairly positive. A western version of their own empire, balancing the great landmass of the world.
posted by kernel_sander at 1:37 PM on June 22, 2012


This graph makes a lot of sense to me, so I feel the need to defend it somehow. Of course the first thousand years are a blip. It's because these are estimates. The makers of the graph are using the x axis to represent how much we know about that time period in question. It is eurocentric because that's how the world's GDP is structure is right now, but as you can see, India, China, and Japan are fast catching up.

The caveat that 'very broadly speaking', the 1-1000 year values are a proxy for population is just that, a superficial analysis. Yes, we can argue who was a bigger deal, Rome, Greece, or China, but the point is that if China had more people and even a minuscule advantage in per capita production, then the people thing wins out.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 1:46 PM on June 22, 2012


the downslopes ... really means "producing proportionally less stuff compared to the rest of the world

But they don't; the slopes conflate that country's change with others' changes. You have to look at the change (in time) in widths (measured vertically) to get to "changes proportional to other countries". e.g. Russia's share stayed relatively constant between 1950 and 1970, but there is significant "downward slope" to their stripe, and India "lost ground" between 1820 and 1950 but their stripe's slope is "upward".

I like the data presentation, but it takes some reading of the chart to make the correct comparisons. Making the x-axis wonky just spreads out the interesting (to a modern westerner) part. Deeper looks raise questions about the underlying data and what's missing, like everything south of the Tropic of Cancer (yes India, I see you sticking out).

Also - Yes, this reminds me of a Civ score chart, but on mine stripes disappear, not appear.
posted by achrise at 1:47 PM on June 22, 2012


I'd guess that one could combine Italy, France, Spain, and the 'ancient civilizations' in the top stripe to get a very rough analogy to Rome, although the top stripe mentions Iran.
posted by gimonca at 1:48 PM on June 22, 2012


Because they're useful and informative. Percentages and rates of change generally tell you much more than absolute values do, because they have been normalized.

Well, of course there's nothing wrong with percentages, I just think that this kind of graph is a confusing way to present them visually.

Pie charts are a great way to present percentages visually, as the divided circle intuitively conveys the idea of parts of a whole. The data in this graph could be effectively presented as an interactive pie chart with a slider control that allowed you to adjust the date. The slices of the pie chart could grow larger or smaller accordingly as you adjust the date.
posted by oulipian at 1:49 PM on June 22, 2012


I think the X-Axis, which is pretty wonky, is less about Eurocentrism and more about presentcentrism; the purpose of the chart is to show how industrialization changed the GDP distribution first by allowing industrialized European countries to start out producing, on a per capita basis, non-industrialized countries, then showing how those differences are evening out again as the rest of the world industrializes. There's no reason to show the older stuff because the graph isn't telling a story about the GEL of Germany in 1400, beyond giving a snap shot of pre-industrial life.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:15 PM on June 22
Presentcentrism perhaps, but my main beef is that this skews the graph enough that it turns what is, in all reality, a really starkly aberrant phase in the history of civilization into appearing as The Way Things Are. China was the hugely dominant world power for centuries. Then the industrial revolution happened, and there was this huge change, and now things are normalizing. But this graph doesn't show that. It shows European advancement as normative, and the relative "decline" of the western powers as somehow more interesting than the thousand years that Asia was predominant. That's crazytalk.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 2:02 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pie charts are a great way to present percentages visually

Well... not really (see note here, for example). Stacked bars tend to be "read" more accurately (e.g.).

Also, adding a slider would actually make it harder and more cumbersome to look at trends over time, because you've essentially taken that dimension out of the display. Since the time dimension is really the punchline here I think abstracting it away would be a strange choice.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:05 PM on June 22, 2012


I find them confusing because they're visually similar to other kinds of graphs, but are read in a very different way.

This was my problem. I read it like a line graph, which resulted in a pretty dramatic misunderstanding of the data being presented.
posted by asnider at 2:16 PM on June 22, 2012


I think you and I are just reading that graph differently. I see it as precisely demonstrating that the predominance of Asia as the historical rule, since that is the state of affairs at the beginning and the trend at the end of the graph. If you wanted to make a graph the was OMG THE CHINESE, you wouldn't include the pre-industrial revolution data.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:27 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am not as offended by the form of the graph as by the information it purports to convey. By displaying GDP - a concept grounded both in the nation-state and in capitalism - the graph reifies totally absurd ideas. In graphing something, we pretend that it exists. The data represent something real. Just as Europeans used maps to impose their power on the world (you aren't here on the map, therefore you don't exist), graphs represent and re-create power.

Beyond that, the idea that

the Malthusian Trap ironically populated England with workers whose upper-class values made them biologically better adapted to invent and use modern technology

is ignorant enough to make the entire article suspect. First, you have to buy into Malthusian logic, and also to accept that the industrial revolution created the only technological advances worth mentioning. Or, I suppose, the only advances worth mentioning. Social restructuring, changes to the commons and to distribution, do not count (apparently). Rather, it is only the efficiency of the industrial revolution that "counts" on the graph.

Then you have Malthus. Gawd. I mean, he just made up his whole idea (food growth is linear/population growth is logarithmic). This was never true. The agricultural revolution is a good refutation to this concept and occurred much earlier than the industrial revolution. And it occurred at different times and in different ways across the world. Malthus was a preacher whose entire analysis was grounded in demonstrating god's graces or lack thereof.

Then, what the hell does it mean that Europeans had "upper class values." That concept is totally nonsense, especially when projected back in time. I have no idea what the sentence means, actually. And how would their values be displayed through biology? Or vice versa? Is the author seriously suggesting that Europeans are biologically different than the other false nation-states represented in the graph?

So this graph simply takes Malthus at his word (at least prior to 1800), conflates population growth with GDP (which is nonsense) and then takes real GDP and mashes the lines together to demonstrate trends.

I don't have time to really write this well, but let me just say yuck.
posted by blueberry sushi at 2:30 PM on June 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


It really doesn't seem to do a great job for the first 1000 years; the divisions it chooses are modern country boundaries which don't map neatly onto ancient divisions. I mean, the Roman Empire spans three continents at that point, and its economy (especially in global respects) is a topic of contemporary heated debate.

I'd like to know what borders they're using for the various distinctions they're making. I don't imagine the rump Indo-Greek kingdoms had economies that would distort the chart massively, but who are they being counted for? Why do India and China get to be unified in times when they were not, historically speaking, while Italy and Germany are separated even through times when they were partially unified?

Argh, I just realized that the text refers to before and after 1800, which isn't even a date marked on the damn chart (the closest is 1820).
posted by Copronymus at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a real rough cut of the chart with a linear x-axis.

It makes it look like the US will be just a speed-bump.
posted by achrise at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


You know, I was going to say the same thing when I read that, because I remembered that the infographics cognoscenti are possessed of a deep animosity towards pie charts and I figured they had a good reason. I came across this article in the process and now I'm a lot less sure that the pseudo-empirical invocations of things like Steven's power law are actually good justification for the hatred they receive, but I don't know. I'm out of my depth there.

I'm not as convinced that the graph under discussion is as terrible the Economist blog is painting it to be, but it is reasonable to expect from an infographic that prominent visual elements correspond to meaningful differences in the data (like the arcs that oulipian points out). I'm thinking specifically about the slope of the borders between regions in the chart here -- yeah, if you think about it a little, you realize that those slopes are fairly meaningless artifacts of how the data is being presented, but it's hard to ignore when those angles basically have a big sign around hanging from their necks that says "HEY! INTERPRET ME!!!"
posted by invitapriore at 2:43 PM on June 22, 2012


Oops, I meant to quote this before everything else in that comment:

Pie charts are a great way to present percentages visually

Well... not really (see note here, for example). Stacked bars tend to be "read" more accurately (e.g.).

posted by invitapriore at 2:47 PM on June 22, 2012


More immediate, better researched, more data, and better graphed, although not economics, per se:

How we die, 1900 to 2010. (Researched by the New England Journal of Medicine, so US data only at this stage - an interactive graph (Flash)).

It's fascinating to watch the whittling away of most lethal diseases over time, with the growth of others... because we have to die of something.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:10 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


[MeFi] not_that_epiphanius V
In-Game
Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword.

It's all your fault.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 3:18 PM on June 22, 2012


Of course the "first" thousand years are glossed over - the data we have is minimal and sketchy, and the more recent portions contain so many more people that they're more important anyway. They could have decided to start this chart at the big bang and made all of human history a single data point.
posted by The Lamplighter at 4:20 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


This graph would look more balanced if the US was on top of all the other areas. I can see why the makers might have chosen not to do that, but as a relative latecomer to the timeframe in question, putting the US on top would cause less visual distortion.

I was thinking about something like this last night, but I was specifically wanting a graph of "growth of energy use by region" or something like that. Have you seen similar representations that show "non-economic" indicators? I'd take energy use over GDP, anyway.
posted by sneebler at 4:43 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting, but what these flawed conventional measures of economic activity leave out is how far the level of gross domestic miracles has fallen, since the time of Jesus.
posted by sfenders at 5:04 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The ones that cared about cleanliness, eating with knives and forks, etc. (affectations derived from the upper class of the time)

I realise you're just paraphrasing - my ire is not directed at you - but honestly what a clod of silly, silly nonsense that statement is. Anyone with the most basic understanding of plague history would know it.

To whit:

1) The upper class were asbolutely as susceptible to plague as lower classes. The only thing in their favour was relative isolation and space, resulting in ease-of-quarantine, but the same applied to rural and remote villages etc.

2) The idea that Britain suffered the ravages of plague less than contintental Europe is balderdash. Britain was one of the biggest victims of plague, and further undermining the argument is the fact that the waves of plague hitting Britain did not meaningfully decrease for over a hundred years after the initial infection - eg, the 1479-80 outbreak killed about 20% of the population.

3. The response to the plague had nothing to do with upper class values. I mean, people thought it was coming from "miasma", and everything to do with quarantine.

4. Whilst it's true that the huge drop in mortality that can be seen from around the 18th century was driven by improved hygiene (and also nutrition but we'll leave that aside), a push that came from the aristocracy and was based not around any medicinal thinking but social ideas of cleanliness, this happened centuries after the worst plague outbreaks had hit Britain. This notion of dirt being morally "dirty" didn't take root during the worst plague times.
posted by smoke at 6:09 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, all the charts in this post take their data (or some of it) from the late Angus Maddison, an English-born economist based in the Netherlands. He spent much of his career studying this stuff. There are similar GDP figures in the historical GDP tables given on Wikipedia.

The reason for China and India's dominance 1-2 thousand years ago seems to be entirely due to population differences, because the per capita GDP figures show no real difference between east and west. I haven't been able to find the numbers on the web, but I have a hard copy of The World Economy by Maddison and the population numbers he gives there line up with the links I've given--according to that book, China and India had about 75% of the world's population around year 0. The book lists estimates from five different sources, so there appears to be some consensus on the matter.

Regarding how GDP is calculated for different historical eras, the Roman GDP figures are estimated in 1990 dollars, wheat (in kilograms), and sesterces, so it's not like economists are unaware that there were differences between older times and today.

Regarding the difficulty of reading the graph: I think of it as showing how a pie chart changes over time. So you get all the useful information of a pie chart but with an extra dimension's worth of information.

The one thing I'm wondering about is the downtick in GDP for "non-Asian ancient civilizations" around 1500, and how much of that Timur (aka "in the running for title of most evil human being ever, before Hitler") was responsible for, given that he killed off millions of people in what is now Iran.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:17 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm not as graph-savvy as everyone else, but even after reading explainations, I can't understand this graph. I just don't get it. It doesn't make sense to me. Augh!
posted by windykites at 10:07 PM on June 22, 2012


The graph is really easy to understand, regardless if you agree with it or not. What, exactly, is throwing everyone off?
posted by spaltavian at 12:33 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is the Roman Empire even shown here at all, or is it just 'Italy'? Though 'Italy' was not a coherent political entity until 1861. It's said to be only the UK, not the British Empire (which would obviously include India, and some other bits), although as a matter of fact the UK didn't exist before 1707 (or for these purposes arguably 1603 or 1927). The distinctions must be difficult to draw in places, and I have no idea what one could properly do on that kind of basis about, say, Persia - which doesn't seem to feature at all.

I don't know what Maddison did, but the problems are clearly mind-boggling. Population figures alone must be extremely challenging, and then we're dealing with some feudal or other societies where the whole concept of GDP must be sort of moot anyway.

If this is really just another way of saying that China is really big, we got the news already.
posted by Segundus at 1:43 AM on June 23, 2012


Two well-known recent additions are Guns, Germs and Steel, which focuses on the peculiar and advantageous geography of norther Europe and its natural resources

It would be hard to think of a more ludicrous simplification of the thesis of that book.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:55 AM on June 23, 2012


I have taken the liberty of scanning few pages from unusually atlas I owe. Each country on the map was distorted by unit it is measuring.

Let's take look at maps of

Population AD 1
and
Wealth AD 1


They look almost identical! As a dead Quaker mentioned upthread most the differences in wealth between different countries was due to population difference. Everybody were equally poor on AD 1 with average GDP per capita of $445 a year.

Few things about the map, China and India absolutely dominated the map, again due to population. ltaly was big for its size, all the loots of Roman empire have to go somewhere. Clearly, Eygpt and Turkey were as important part of Roman empire as modern western European countries . It was not a meaningful comparison on AD 1 to divide Roman empire into France, UK, Italy, Spain and "Non-Asian Ancient civilizations." Last time I checked, Turkey and Iran are still part of Asia.

The relative proportion of wealth and population are still unchanged by AD 1500.
posted by Carius at 7:45 AM on June 23, 2012


the graph is really easy to understand

Um, not for someone who, you know, doesn't understand it.

That comment was kind of like saying "English is really easy to understand, I don't see why people have such trouble with it. What exactly is it about English that you don't understand?" to someone who doesn't speak much English. They might not know the language well enough to identify the source of their confusion.

Instead of just saying that it's easy, why not help make it more comprehensible to those who don't intuitively get it?
posted by windykites at 8:21 AM on June 23, 2012


I meant "exponential" not "logarithmic" in my comment about Malthus.
posted by blueberry sushi at 11:33 AM on June 23, 2012


This article and our discussion reminds me of Ian Morris' Why the West Rules - for Now. He also produces data for populations and their well-being over millenia, but with a different mix of measurements. The book also feels like a bunch of games of Civilization.
posted by doctornemo at 8:48 AM on June 24, 2012


To the graph-illiterate: The relative thickness of the lines indicates percentages. The relative height of the lines is irrelevant.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:22 AM on June 24, 2012


I'm totally confused about the brown chunk at the top of the graph - is it saying that Non-Asian Ancient civilizations still have 3-5% of the world's GDP in 2008? Or just that those countries mapped onto modern day Greece, Turkey, Iran, and Egypt fit into that chunk now?
posted by antifuse at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2012


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