The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The surprising way the world is becoming more like it was a thousand years ago

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In at least one respect, the world today looks more like it did in the year 1,000 than in 1950. The map below shows that the global “economic center of gravity” is rapidly shifting east and south, and it has almost returned to its location 1,000 years ago.

The map is based on a study by the McKinsey Global Institute and uses the fascinating historical gross domestic product estimates of British economist Angus Maddison. The calculations should be seen as a rough estimate: In order to determine the “economic center” of the Earth, Maddison identifies the center of a country and "weights" it by the size of the country's economy. So as the U.S. gross domestic product got bigger, the "center" of the world moved left (and west), but now it seems to be moving back as developing countries, particularly in Asia, grow fast.

It's a return of a long-run historical trend. In the year 1,000, China and India accounted for two-thirds of global economic activity. The global economic center was firmly in the Middle East. It remained there for roughly 820 years before shifting to Europe with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, and then toward North America.

But East Asia’s stunning economic rise and urbanization in the last few decades, along with the growth of India and other emerging economies, has rapidly tugged the center back toward its origin. By 2025, the world’s economic center will be as far east as it was in 1,000 A.D., though substantially farther north, according to McKinsey's predictions.

The chart comes from a book published in May, “No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends,” by the directors of the McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey & Company’s flagship think tank.

Republished courtesy of McKinsey & Company.