Wealthiest Countries in the World: 1500–2022

Countries are ranked by gross domestic product per capita in purchasing power parity.

Results from recent decades are consistent with my view that the age of continental-scale, railroad-era, resource-extraction empires has come and gone, at least in terms of generating wealth for their residents.


No question that big countries/empires ultimately end up impoverishing their citizens and imploding. Basically, that is the history of the world. Monarchies, Republics, Democracies all follow the same sad track. It seems that we humans have yet to find a better way of organizing our societies to make them “sustainable”.

However, the rankings since about 1900 seem to reflect something other than the end of the age of continental-scale, railroad-era, resource extraction empires. High per-capita PPP economies seem to fall into three categories:

  1. Low population resource-extraction economies, such as Qatar, UAE, Norway. In earlier days, those wealthy small countries would have been (were) taken over by their high population neighbors – or by distant empires. The benefits of their resources would have been taken by others.

  2. Low population playgrounds, where money earned elsewhere is spent, such as Macao, San Marino, Monaco. Big countries have similar places, such as Las Vegas, but those playgrounds are subsumed into much larger units.

  3. Low population gated communities, such as Luxembourg or Lichenstein. These are totally dependent on production from outside their borders, but have effective policies to keep the riff-raff out.

The main message of that video is the reality that the Big Wheel Keeps On Turning. Fascinating to see the once pre-eminent Republic of Venice sink down the scales.