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Noah Smith writes a neat Development Economics column from San Francisco, CA. It is evidence-based, thoughtful and informative. Basically, he puts out short narratives on the growth economics within current events, in a variety of countries.

One recent Twitter thread of his was of immediate interest to me. I taught a Master’s Class in International Trade and Development at U.C. Santa Cruz in the middle 1990s.

What drew me to Noah’s latest efforts? He was able to summarize, for all of us, in one simple Our World in Data chart, eleven essential country stories in economic development, over the last 30 years. This is the time that passed since the middle 1990s, when I last inspected materials like this.


Image Source: World Bank


What I found fascinating? The countries that have risen, or stagnated, are not often widely discussed in this way, in more widely-read mainstream macroeconomics commentary.

So, I thought for this week’s feature, I would highlight his latest effort.

GDP per capita, measured in constant international U.S. dollars is what organized his focus.

Development economics is concerned about raising the average incomes in a population. How to get rich when you are poor, if you will. That makes the GDP per capita data a good proxy, tracking how much average incomes have risen inside a given country.

In the up-front chart Noah Smith put together, covering the last 30 years of time, since the end of Communism and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, we can see both success and stagnation, for the eleven very different world economies.

I list next where the best and the worst countries are. I rank-ordered, from highest GDP per capita, to the lowest. In short, from the now comparatively rich to the still poor.

1. Poland
2. Turkey
3. Mexico
4. Dominican Republic
5. Ukraine
6. Indonesia
7. Jamaica
8. Philippines
9. Bangladesh
10. Pakistan
11. Haiti

What follows is a brief Noah Smith style summary, of what is going on with each of these countries’ economic growth stories, in order of success.

1. Poland is only about 3/4 as rich as South Korea, but its overall growth since 1991 has been about the same.

South Korea is the generally acknowledged champion of economic development, but more people should pay attention to Poland!


Image Source: World Bank