Tag: GDP per capita

The link below is to an article by Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. He argues that per-capita GDP is a poor indicator of development, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The problems with using GDP as an indicator of the level of development of a country are well known and several alternative measures are in common use. Perhaps the best known is the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI), where countries are given an HDI of between 0 and 1. HDI is the average of three indices based on three sets of variables: (i) life expectancy at birth, (ii) education (a weighted average of (a) the mean years that a 25-year-old person or older has spent in school and (b) the number of years of schooling that a 5-year-old child is expected to have over their lifetime) and (iii) real gross national income (GNY) per capita, measured in US dollars at purchasing-power parity exchange rates (see Box 27.1 in Economics 8th edition for more details).

But although indicators such as this capture more elements of development than simple per-capita GNP or GNY, there are still serious shortcomings. A major problem is the lack of and inaccuracy of statistics, especially when applied to the rural subsistence and informal urban sectors. The problem is recognised and some countries are trying to address the problem (see the second article below), but the problem is huge. As Gates says:

It is clear to me that we need to devote greater resources to getting basic GDP numbers right. … National statistics offices across Africa need more support so that they can obtain and report timelier and more accurate data. Donor governments and international organisations such as the World Bank need to do more to help African authorities produce a clearer picture of their economies. And African policymakers need to be more consistent about demanding better statistics and using them to inform decisions.

Another problem is how you convert data into internationally comparable forms. For example, how are inflation, exchange rates, income distribution, the quality of health provision and education, etc. taken into account?

How GDP understates economic growth The Guardian, Bill Gates (8/5/13)
States’ GDP computation report out soon, says Nigeria statistics bureau Premium Times (Nigeria), Bassey Udo (9/5/13)
Michael Porter Presents New Alternative to GDP: The Social Progress Index (SPI) Triple Pundit, Raz Godelnik (13/4/13)


  1. By accessing the Human Development Index site, identify which countries have a much higher ranking by HDP than by per capita gross national income. Explain why.
  2. Why is expressing GNY in purchasing-power parity (PPP) terms likely to increase the GNY figures for the poorest countries?
  3. Explain the following quote from the Gates article: ‘I have long believed that GDP understates growth even in rich countries, where its measurement is quite sophisticated, because it is very difficult to compare the value of baskets of goods across different time periods’.
  4. Why is GNY per capita, even when expressed in PPP terms, likely to understate the level of development in subsistence economies?
  5. Explain whether the rate of growth of GNY per capita is likely to understate or overstate the rate of economic development of sub-Saharan African countries?
  6. Why are the challenges of calculating GDP or GNY particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa?

According to GDP figures released on 15 August, China overtook Japan in the second quarter of 2010 to become the world’s second largest economy. This raises two questions: just what do the GDP figures mean and why has this happened?

The GDP figures are total figures measured in US dollars at current exchange rates. According to these nominal figures, Japan’s GDP was $1.286 trillion in the second quarter of 2010; China’s was $1.335 trillion. This follows several years when Chinese growth rates have massively exceeded Japanese ones.

As far as explanations are concerned, economists look to a number of different factors, including investment policies, relative exchange rates, confidence, deflation in Japan and the scope for catching up in China.

The following podcasts and webcasts look at these questions, as do the articles.

Podcasts and webcasts
China eyes Japan’s slowing GDP growth BBC News, Roland Buerk (16/8/10)
Japan’s economic strategy ‘not happening’ BBC Today Programme Interview with Dr Seijiro Takeshita of Mizuho International banks (16/8/10)
China’s growth rate slows to 10.3% as lending tightens BBC News, Chris Hogg (15/7/10)
China exports jump in May BBC News, Chris Hogg (10/6/10)
China Overtakes Japan in 2Q As No. 2 Economy Associated Press on YouTube (16/8/10)
China’s economy takes over Japan’s AsianCorrespondent on YouTube (16/8/10)

China overtakes Japan to become world’s second-biggest economy Telegraph, Roland Gribben (17/8/10)
Chinese economy eclipses Japan’s Financial Times, Lindsay Whipp and Jamil Anderlini (16/8/10)
Decoding China’s modesty Financial Times blogs, Jamil Anderlini (17/8/10)
China ‘overtakes Japan in economic prowess’ asiaone news (17/8/10)
China overtakes Japan to become second largest economy in world Irish Times, Clifford Coonan (17/8/10)
China Passes Japan As Second-Largest Economy Huffington Post, Joe McDonald (16/8/10)

World Economic Outlook July 2010 Update IMF (7/7/10)
China Economic Statistics and Indicators EconomyWatch
Japan Economic Statistics and Indicators EconomyWatch


  1. Why may simple GDP figures be a poor indicator of the relative size of the Chinese and Japanese economies?
  2. If purchasing-power parity figures were used, how would this affect the relative sizes of the two economies? Explain why purchasing-power parity exchange rates are so different from nominal exchange rates in the two countries.
  3. What impact have the relative exchange rates of the two countries had on economic growth?
  4. Why are simple GDP figures a poor indicator of living standards?
  5. What factors will determine whether income inequality is likely to widen or narrow in China over the coming years?
  6. What factors explain Japan’s low rate of economic growth since the early 1990s? How likely is it that these factors will apply in China in the future?