The Maddison Project is probably the world’s most comprehensive source of economic history statistics. Begun by British economist Angus Maddison, it was continued after his death in 2010 by an institution at the University of Groningen.
Recently, an update for 2018 has been released.
Background paper: https://www.rug.nl/ggdc/html_publications/memorandum/gd174.pdf
It was accompanied by a major introductory article at Voxeu – Rebasing ‘Maddison’: The shape of long-run economic development:
Compared to the traditional Maddison method of extrapolation from a single, modern-day observation, the new ‘cross-country’ measure gives substantially different relative income levels. …
The figure compares the level of real GDP per capita relative to the US for the year 1870 based on the new ‘cross-country’ measure and on an extrapolation-based measure. The extrapolation-based measure suggests that the UK and the Netherlands had substantially higher income levels than the US, but the new measure shows that the UK and US were at similar levels, and the Netherlands was much closer to France.
The figure also shows that the difference between the two measures varies considerably across countries, with hardly any difference for Argentina or China, a lower comparative level for Brazil, and a higher comparative level for India.
It was also picked up by Unz.com commenter Polish Perspective:
The New Angus Maddison Database update (2018) is out! It is a big update with a lot of methodological re-working. It seems quite credible to my mind, for instance Turkey’s GDP per capita (PPP-adjusted) is 18K in 2016. The official Turkstat number on the same metric is closer to 24K, but that is largely because they cook their numbers. India’s GDP per capita is also lower, which is also congruent with criticism from many Indian economists about the unreliability of Indian GDP data. China’s number is also somewhat lower, but not nearly as much of a downward revision as for Turkey or India, which gels with I have written for some time now. They all cook their numbers but China does it less than Turkey(worst offender) or India(pretty bad).
The discrepancy between Maddison and their official numbers will be funny to watch.
What is more fascinating is that Russia’s GDP per capita was moving up very rapidly up until 1970s, this is common knowledge, but according to the latest database revision, Russia was actually quite close to Norway up until the 1970s after it had a period of stagnation and then of course the disastrous 1990s.
It makes you think: if Russia had moved to a Chinese reform system in the early 1970s, it’s per capita GDP could well be at Scandinavian levels. It was able to do very well up until the 1970s at the very least in PPP-adjusted terms.
This doesn’t sound very plausible to me.
Throwing up a few quick Excel graphs:
Russian GDPcc increases across the board, going from a consistent ~20% of US levels throughout most of the 20th century in the old revision, to ~40% during Tsarist times, and peaking at ~60% in the 1970s.
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).
It is also very strange that Russian GDPcc is essentially equivalent to Soviet GDPcc, whereas virtually all prior research I’ve seen suggests that the RSFSR was significantly (10%-20%) higher than the Soviet average. Though this wasn’t necessarily reflected in living standards, since the RSFSR and probably the BSSR significantly subsidized the other republics.
We are to believe that Finland was actually less developed than the Russian Empire as a whole prior to the October Revolution. This is complete nonsense.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire as a whole was more developed than the Russian Empire. But the graph above refers to just Austria, in turn the most developed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – and, consequently, far more developed than the Russian Empire.
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.
This is highly unlikely what we know of Soviet consumer poverty, even adjusting for Soviet consumption being highly constricted by massive military spending, investment into the industrial stock, and the inherent inefficiencies of distribution under central planning.
The main point it has going for it is that it is far more in sync with current estimates of GDPcc (PPP) between Russia (around $28,000 according to the IMF) and the developed world (~$50,000).