Convergent incomes and divergent growth – that is the economic story of our times. We are witnessing the reversal of the 19th and early 20th century era of divergent incomes. In that epoch, the peoples of western Europe and their most successful former colonies achieved a huge economic advantage over the rest of humanity. Now it is being reversed more quickly than it emerged. This is inevitable and desirable. But it also creates huge global challenges. Rapid convergence on the productivity of advanced western economies is not unprecedented in the era following the second world war. What is unprecedented this time is not convergence, but the scale. Suppose China were to follow Japan’s path during the 1950s and 1960s. Then it would still have 20 years of very fast growth in front of it, reaching some 70 per cent of US output per head by 2030. At that point, its economy would be a little less than three times as large as
that of the US, at PPP, and larger than that of the US and western Europe combined. India is further behind. At recent rates of growth, India’s economy would be about 80 per cent of that of the US by 2030, though its gross domestic product per head would still be less than a fifth of US levels.
China is today where Japan was in 1950, relative to US levels at that time. But its output per head is far higher in absolute terms, since US levels have themselves risen threefold. Today, China’s real GDP per head is roughly where Japan’s was in the mid-1960s and South Korea’s in the mid-1980s. India’s are where Japan was in the early 1950s and South Korea in the early 1970s.