Forgot to blog about it at the time, but latest version of the Maddison Project was released a month ago.
In my last post (on the MDP 2018), I noted that many of the results for Russia were very strange:
The USSR was also supposedly slightly richer than Italy, at the level of countries such as Austria and Finland, and only marginally behind the UK, France, and Germany as late as the early 1980s.
The new figures make a lot more sense, to be frank.
USSR/RSFSR-RF GDPcc as % of American, 1885-2018.
Russia is currently at 43%/45% of US GDPcc (PPP) acc. IMF (2020) and World Bank (2019) estimates respectively, so that’s a good match at the end.
That’s unlike MDP 2013, which put it at just around 15% in the early 2010s, which while accurate only in nominal terms, is not what these historical comparisons are about (i.e. proxying living standards according to a theoretical dollar that maintains constant purchasing power across both space and time).
Nor however is it like the MDP 2018, which had USSR/RSFSR GDPcc reaching an implausible 60%+ of US GDP – almost converging it with a number of West European economies – during the 1960s.
The highest academic estimates of Soviet GDPcc as a percentage of American I have seen prior to this are 50%, and that’s of course not adjusting for goods in centrally planned economies being less well tailored to consumer preferences (“consumers would sacrifice 12-15% of their income to get in exchange the possibility of choice in a free market” – Jose Luis Ricon, citing research).
A peak at 40% of the US level is, again, much more plausible.
USSR/RSFSR-RF GDPcc relative to other “catchers up”, 1885-2018.
This, again, is much more plausible than the MDP 2018, in which the USSR was level pegging with the likes of Austria, Japan, Finland, and even the UK during the 1970s:
So, best comprehensive estimate of historical GDPcc to date?
Unfortunately, while the modern data is more plausible, at least as pertains to Russia, there are a number of very bizarre findings.
Italy maintains a GDPcc of $2500-$3000 (even more on some years) through to where its series begins in 1311. This is nonsensical, considering that the “base” for a Malthusian society – as almost all societies were before the Industrial Revolution – is pegged at around $400 or $500. Rich city states fed by agricultural surpluses from the hinterlands or overseas might be higher, but only $1,000-$1,500 range at best. It also implies some other strange things, such as that the UK only reached Italy’s medieval per capita levels c.1800, and the Soviet Union – in the mid-1930s.