How do civilizations compare economically? Dividing up the world into roughly nine civilizations,1 we can sum their member nations’ gross domestic product (GDP). This allows us to track a civilization’s share of the global economy over time.
Economists have long questioned the use of GDP as a financial measure, but in this study I only look at relative differences. I define economic power as a relative advantage that one party holds over others.
The nine civilizations used for this study include: Western (Western Europe, Northern America and Australia), Sinic (China and its satellites), Orthodox (Russia, former Soviet states and Greece), Latin American, Japanese, Islamic (including the Arab World, Turkey, Northern Africa, the islands of Oceania and Iran), Hindu (India), Buddhist (southeast Asia and Mongolia) and African (below the Sahara).
Figure 1. Samuel Huntington’s civilizations: Western (blue), Latin American (purple), Orthodox (cyan), Islamic (green), African (brown), Hindu (orange), Buddhist (yellow), Sinic (red-brown), Japanese (red).
German GDP 1900-2000
Figure 2. Germany’s GDP between 1900 and 2000.
Before clashing into civilizations, have a look at the above graph. It shows the development of Germany’s share of global GDP during the 20th century. German economic power, relative to the world, has been in decline for at least a century, dropping from around 12% of global GDP in 1900 to 4% in 2000. As we will see later, this decline also applies to the West as a whole.
The diminishing share of global GDP did not mean Germany was becoming poorer. The global economy was still growing and German wealth per capita increased throughout the 20th century. But Germany’s share of the global economy kept sliding down, eventually losing almost 75% of its economic power in only a single century’s time.
The graph also tells us that from the day Hitler became Chancellor, in January 1933, the Nazi economy immediately began seizing a larger share of global GDP, fueled in large part by aggressively occupying and colonizing neighboring lands (Austria, Poland, etc.). German expansionism came to a halt by 1939 when allied forces started to fight back.
In the final year of the Second World War, the German economy collapsed, losing 75% of its share of global GDP in a single year. But during the 1950s, Germans managed to rebuild their economy. In a single decade’s time, the Wirtschaftswunder, or the German miracle, successfully healed the damage done by the collapse of the Third Reich.
The GDP of Civilizations
Figure 3. Share of GDP per Civilization (1800-2000).
Professor Angus Maddison has gathered historic GDP values for the University of Groningen.2 In the graph above, I have plotted these values for each of Samuel Huntington’s nine civilizations for the time frame 1800-2000.
The purpose of this graph is to show the sudden rise and fall of Western economic supremacy. For the first time in history, the industrial revolutions that began in Great Britain put the West firmly in charge of the global economy. Before that, the Silk Road civilizations of East Asia (China and India) had dominated human economic activity for thousands of years.
By disrupting the old order, the West condemned the rest of the world to an economic backwater, but the age of Western supremacy arguably lasted only about 150 years, from 1850 to 2000. Immediately after the Second World War, the West began losing is comparative advantage again. That’s because technology and knowledge transfer from the West to the Rest democratized industrial wealth.
As a result, the West’s relative share of global GDP dropped from around 70% in 1950 to about 50% by 2000. Western civilization lost almost a third of its economic power relative to the world, in only half a century’s time.
World Bank Data
Figure 4. Share of Global GDP per Civilization from 1960 to 2015.
Using a different data set provided by the World Bank, the earlier results can be reproduced. The graph above shows a stacked comparison of each civilization’s relative share of the global economy (in GDP). According to the World Bank, the West controlled over 75% of the global economy by 1960.
Again, the following five decades paint the economic decline of the West, its relative GDP share dropping to 50%, a loss of a third of its relative economic power.
The graph shows that East Asia began to threaten Western dominance. For a short period of time, from 1960 to 2010, Japan managed to conquer a significant share of the global economy. Around 1995, Japan alone controlled nearly 20% of the global economy. But by the 2000s, Japan would hand its momentum over to China.
When the West decided to outsource its factories to China, rather than invest in new births, the West appears to have committed cultural suicide, handing China a ticket to global dominance. Western support for globalism should therefore be understood in this manner: globalism is a hastily formulated answer to try and compensate for failing Western economies.
Figure 5. The share of global GDP for major players.
The global economic power shift from West to East will have social, political and cultural implications.
The Pax Americana, the world order provided by American economic dominance, has come to an end. Between 1960 and 2010, Americans lost nearly half of their GDP share relative to the world, down from about 40% to about 20%, as shown in the above graph. But with only 20% of the economy in American hands, the United States has ceased to be an economic superpower.
In turn, China alone now controls 15% of the world economy; the combined Sinic civilization nearly 20%—on par with the United States. With China’s population nearing 2 billion, the Chinese will undoubtedly attempt to do what the Japanese could not, namely overtake America and the West in the continuous struggle for global economic dominance.
Unsurprisingly, China has already ended its one-child policy in 2015. This move brings a Chinese baby-boom. The new Chinese births are set to guarantee a large influx of cheap labor into China’s working class between 2030 and 2040.
Unlike Europe and America, China won’t need immigrants to fuel its economy.
How Will the West Respond?
How will the West respond to its economic downfall? In his book The Fates of Nations, ecologist Paul Colinvaux pointed out that aggressive wars are always started by rich nations. When confronted with rising population numbers, rich nations respond with war and oppression in order to protect their wealth from angry masses.
As African and Chinese populations are set to grow explosively, the West may decide that war is in its best interest. The very real threat of being flooded, raped or genocided by hundreds of millions of angry Arab, African, Latin American and Asian immigrants will certainly drive (white) Europeans and Americans to despair—and into the hands of a ‘savior’.
Colinvaux further noted that aggressive wars are not won by numbers, but by superior technology. And indeed, the Western world still holds a technological and military advantage over the Rest. Will the West, faced with decades if not centuries of economic humiliation, follow in German footsteps?