In Box

Rich Country, Poor Country

The economic divide continues to expand.

Anna Zieminski, Spencer Platt, Jin Lee via Getty Images
Anna Zieminski, Spencer Platt, Jin Lee via Getty Images

The split between rich and poor is yawning ever wider -- but it's poor countries, not just people, that are really falling behind. Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist, recently put together data showing that between 1820 and 2002, global GDP per capita increased by more than 10 times -- but so did global inequality. As shown by the Gini coefficient, the most commonly used metric, inequality increased steadily throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. It plateaued after the 1950s, but inequality between countries -- in particular between the developed West and what came to be known as the Third World -- exploded throughout the 20th century and is now a broad gap. Where should we expect this rich country-poor country split to have the most effect? On migration patterns, Milanovic says, because "inequality is now determined more by where you live than the class you belong to." The best way to change your lot in life, it seems, is to move.

The split between rich and poor is yawning ever wider — but it’s poor countries, not just people, that are really falling behind. Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist, recently put together data showing that between 1820 and 2002, global GDP per capita increased by more than 10 times — but so did global inequality. As shown by the Gini coefficient, the most commonly used metric, inequality increased steadily throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. It plateaued after the 1950s, but inequality between countries — in particular between the developed West and what came to be known as the Third World — exploded throughout the 20th century and is now a broad gap. Where should we expect this rich country-poor country split to have the most effect? On migration patterns, Milanovic says, because "inequality is now determined more by where you live than the class you belong to." The best way to change your lot in life, it seems, is to move.

Joshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

More from Foreign Policy

The Pentagon is seen from the air over Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, 2013.

The Pentagon’s Office Culture Is Stuck in 1968

The U.S. national security bureaucracy needs a severe upgrade.

The Azerbaijani army patrols the streets of Shusha on Sept. 25 under a sign that reads: "Dear Shusha, you are free. Dear Shusha, we are back. Dear Shusha, we will resurrect you. Shusha is ours."

From the Ruins of War, a Tourist Resort Emerges

Shusha was the key to the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now Baku wants to turn the fabled fortress town into a resort.

Frances Pugh in 2019's Midsommar.

Scandinavia’s Horror Renaissance and the Global Appeal of ‘Fakelore’

“Midsommar” and “The Ritual” are steeped in Scandinavian folklore. Or are they?