U.S. versus The World (GDP)

There has been a lot of statements lately coming out of Russia (Putin in particular), China and other places about how the U.S. is in decline. Not sure what is the basis of these statements. Right now the United States GDP is $19.391 Trillion. The entire world’s GDP, according to the World Bank, is $80.684 Trillion. This means that the U.S.’s GPD makes up only 24% of the world’s GDP. This hardly puts us out in the dumpster.

Now, it has changed over time. In 1960 the U.S. GDP was $543.3 billion while the World’s was $1.366 Trillion. This is 40%. So we have declined from having 40% of all the goods and services of the world to only having 24% of all the goods and services in the world. I would argue that in fact this is not a decline, but a growth on the part of the rest of the world, and in many cases a well-deserved growth. In fact, it was the intention of the Marshall Plan to restore the European economy for the purpose of making stable democratic economically viable counties. This is a plan that succeeded in spades. The data from 1960 is only 15 years after the devastating World War II, so it is really no surprise that the U.S. economy, living in “splendid isolationism” or at least conveniently isolated by two very large bodies of water, was in much better shape than those people who had panzers running back and forth across their front lawns.

As of 1980 the United States GDP was 26% of the world GDP. Much of this change was a result of the growth of the western European and Japanese economies. It was before the later boom of the Chinese economy. But this is close to the same percentage as it is now. Just to compare over time:

Year…………Percent GDP

1960             40%

1970             39%

1980             26%

1990             26%

2000             31%

2010             23%

2017             24%


There is definitely a trend here, but it is a trend caused by the rest of the world growing, not by the United States declining. You can definitely see the world economy growing significantly after 2000. But most significant relative shift occurred between 1970, when the U.S. economy made up 39% of the world’s economy, to 1980, when it was down to 26%. It is now 24%, so really not a hugely significant shift in the last 40 or so years from the 26% it was in 1980. Not sure how you then conclude the United States is now in decline.

In the 57 years on this graph, the U.S. GPD actually only declined in one year (2009). That is a pretty good run.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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  1. It’s what those in the field of securities (not security 🙂 refer to as “forward looking facts or statements” (i.e. for purpose of marketing or propaganda )-:

    Such statements constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any statements that express, or involve discussions as to, expectations, beliefs, plans, objectives, assumptions, or future events or performance, often, but not always, through the use of words or phrases such as “anticipates,” “believes,” “estimates,” “expects,” “intends,” “plans,” “predicts,” “projects,” “may result,” “may continue,” or similar expressions, are not statements of historical facts and may be forward-looking facts (i.e. wishful thinking or even disinformation )-:

  2. Although it’s “not a hugely significant shift ” (a subjective observation), I suspect that it is a statistically significant shift. Going from 40% to 24% seems like quite a drop in the USA’s share of the world economy to me. However, just as some companies get too fixated upon market share rather than upon profit margin (or upon total profits), some countries (or analysts) might get fixated upon a country’s share of the world economy rather than upon that country’s per capita income. Might it be a reflection of a competitive outlook (pride?) rather than of a healthy outlook (utility/happiness/security/etc.)? The need for significance versus the need for security?

  3. Well that is the differece between recovery and growth.

    This is interesting, the impact of two World Wars (recalculated):
    Year US % share of European GDP:
    1905 42%
    1913 37%
    1937 42%
    1950 68%
    1990 63%

    Asian economies by the way, are very dependent on the purchasing power of the Western nations.

  4. Chris, just have your presented list extend to before 1960 (back through the years that make your point). Still, a 16% drop over 57 years is an indication of something (perhaps, some exchange rate trends in addition to the development of other countries’ economies that you mentioned). Are you using real GDP or nominal GDP? Of course, even the calculations for reporting GDP in real terms doesn’t ensure that 1960 apples and oranges are being contrasted with 2017 apples and oranges. Either way, Americans still are probably much better off when it comes to enjoying “apples and oranges” that are Russians and Chinese! Just as during the Cold War, some countries would like to portray America in a bad light and that probably accounts for the statements from Russia and China.

  5. Maybe a better way of measuring national power would be the surplus GDP left over after deducting some level of subsistence. That way a country whose GDP is large only because its population is large would rank low. You’d need high GDP and high per-capita GDP to rank highly.

  6. Why not using GDP-PPP? This will give according latest statistics by IMF just 14.66% for USA while 20,10% for China. Anyway with numbers of aluminium or steel production China is producing 10-30 times more than U.S.A. Once upon a time there was an idea in America that real economy is the measure. But now making money with money (fake virtual economy) is the norm.

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