Comparing the historical sizes of national economies is extremely challenging. This post relies on data from Gapminder which has attempted to do this for all the countries in the world for the period since 1800. Gapminder’s approach relies on first obtaining for each country historical population size and Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPpc; for more details, see Standard of living in Mexico since 1800: some international comparisons) and then multiplying these to obtain the GDP. To obtain historical measures of population and GDPpc, Gapminder relies on quantitative and qualitative data from hundreds of official and unofficial documents and a number of carefully documented assumptions. In some cases they admit that some of their numbers for years before 1900 are essentially well-educated “guesstimates”. [Full details are given in the pdf file “Documentation for GDP per capita by purchasing power parities".]
Though the Gapminder data have limitations, they are about the best source for comparing the GDP growth of Mexico since 1800 with that of other large economies. The Gapminder GDPpc data are adjusted for inflation by using constant 2005 US dollars. They are also based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which measures total goods and services produced by an economy independent of exchange rates.
During the 19th century Mexico’s total GDP grew at a relatively unimpressive 1.3% per year, which was only about 0.5% above population growth. In 1800, Mexico’s estimated GDP was just over $6 billion, ranking it second in the Americas. Though this was almost nine times the GDP of Canada, and 3.6 times that of Brazil, it was less than that of Nigeria and half that of the USA. China had by far the largest GDP in 1800 at about $290 billion, more than three times the GDP of second place India, over seven times that of Japan and the large European countries (France, Germany and the UK) and over 20 times that of the USA. The table below shows the estimated GDP levels from 1800 to 1900 for some of the world’s current largest economies.
Estimated total GDP of large economies, 1800 to 1900
(GDP in billions of constant 2005 US dollars based on Purchasing Power Parity)
Country 1800 1820 1870 1900 Growth/yr, 1800-1900
Brazil 1.7 2.4 7.0 10.3 1.8%
Canada 0.7 1.1 9.3 23.1 3.6%
China 286.9 328.8 279.1 320.9 0.1%
France 38.4 47.1 113.5 167.3 1.5%
Germany 36.0 48.5 113.2 254.7 2.0%
India 91.0 98.2 118.8 na na
Indonesia 8.3 9.3 16.0 26.3 1.2%
Italy 23.6 29.3 44.6 71.6 1.1%
Japan 31.1 33.6 39.6 76.6 0.9%
MEXICO 6.1 7.3 9.1 23.3 1.3%
Russia 25.6 26.2 na na na
UK 34.9 45.4 151.3 240.1 2.0%
USA 12.7 20.1 261.3 506.0 3.8%
From 1800 to 1820, just before gaining independence, the Mexican economy grew to $7.3 billion at a sluggish rate of about 0.9% per year. In contrast, Canada and the USA expanded at around 2.3% per year while Brazil’s GDP went up about 1.9% per year. Germany, France, UK and Italy grew at roughly 1.0% to 1.5% per year. The major Asian countries–China, India, Japan and Indonesia–only managed 0.4% to 0.7% per year. The Russian economy essentially stagnated during the 20 year period. China maintained the top position with over three times the GDP of India and over six times those of the large European economies.
By 1870, Mexico’s GDP had inched up over $9 billion growing rather slowly at just over 0.4% per year since 1820; this was slower than the population growth rate. While Mexico’s growth rate was better than the three biggest Asian economies, it severely lagged behind its northern neighbors which grew very rapidly based on industrialization and immigration. Canada’s economy expanded by an impressive 4.4% per year and edged past Mexico. The USA did almost as well at 4.2% per year to move into second place behind China, which declined by a surprising 0.3% per year over the fifty year period. (In China both GDPpc and population declined from 1820 to 1870.)
Brazil grew by a solid 2.1% per year and closed the gap with Mexico. The three largest European economies were also industrializing and grew by roughly 1.7% to 2.0% per year, but they were still overtaken by the USA. While Indonesia’s GDP expanded by about 1.1% per year, growth rates for Japan and India were less than 0.4% per year.
From 1870 to 1900, under the Porifiro Diaz regime, Mexico’s economy grew rapidly at about 3.2% per year up to $23.3 billion. This put Mexico just ahead of Canada which grew slightly more slowly at roughly 3.1% per year. Mexico’s estimated GDP in 1900 was just behind that of Indonesia but over twice that of Brazil which slowed to 1.3% per year. The USA sped ahead at 3.9%. In the early 1880s it became the world’s largest economy by overtaking China which grew slowly at less than 0.5% per year. In 1900 China’s estimated GDP was actually less than it had been 80 years earlier in 1820. By 1900 the USA’s estimated GDP was over $500 billion, about 22 times that of Mexico. Germany grew at an impressive 2.7% per year becoming Europe’s largest economy by moving past the UK which grew at 2.2%, about the same rate as Japan. Growth in France and Italy was significantly slower.
During the full 19th century, Mexico almost quadrupled its GDP but its overall economic performance was fair at best. Its growth rate of just over 1.3% per year was better than the Asian countries which performed poorly during the century. The USA registered a very impressive 3.8% growth per year resulting in a fortyfold GDP increase. Canada was a close second with 3.6% per year and a 34-fold increase. Germany and the UK had seven-fold increases with growth rates near 2.0%, followed by Brazil at 1.8% growth per year. France followed with growth averaging just under1.5% per year. Though these Gapminder GDP levels have some limitations, they do give a pretty good indication of relative historical economic sizes and growth rates.
Mexico’s economic performance was much better in the 20thcentury as was that of all major world countries. A future post will focus on economic growth since 1900.