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Asia rises again

The balance of global economic power is shifting back toward where it was in ancient times.

How the world's economic center of gravity has shifted over time.
How the world's economic center of gravity has shifted over time.Courtesy of Robert Muggah

This map shows how economic power moved from east to west over the course of centuries — and then snapped rapidly back east over the past few decades.

Between 1 and 1000 AD, China and India were the leading global economies. The industrialization of Western Europe and North America pulled the center westward, into the North Atlantic, between the 1800s and 1950. Japan’s post-World War II boom pulled the center eastward between 1950 and 1980 — and then China’s resurgence tugged the center of gravity dramatically eastward between 1990 and 2020 at a faster pace than at any earlier time in human history.

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The economic centers of gravity depicted on this map were derived by estimating the gross domestic product of countries at various times. The method relies on the work of several scholars and was first published by McKinsey’s Global Institute in 2012; this update is from 2020.

Short of a major disruption, the economic center of gravity will continue drifting eastward until 2030, albeit more slowly than it has in the recent past. One of the drivers is the rapid urbanization of Asia, especially China. As people move to cities, wealth and economic growth increase. Other factors include massive investments in infrastructure and social-economic development, including breathtaking poverty reduction.

One of the many policy implications is that global governance — politically and economically — can no longer be restricted to a club of wealthy western countries but requires far more inclusion of the east.

Robert Muggah is a political scientist who cofounded the SecDev Group and the Igarapé Institute. He is coauthor, with Ian Goldin, of “Terra Incognita: 100 Maps to Survive the Next 100 Years,” from which this article is adapted.