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LOOKING BACK

The last time GDP was this bad was only a few years ago

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), flanked by an employee (L) and Amazon French Operations Director Ronan Bole (R), moves a package during a visit at the Amazon factory in Boves, near Amiens, France, October 3, 2017.
REUTERS/Yoan Valat/Pool
Back in 2017, French president Emmanuel Macron was helping open new Amazon facilities.
  • David Yanofsky
By David Yanofsky

Editor of code, visuals, and data

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

With people staying home and whole industries shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic there is significantly less commerce than there used to be. Definitionally, this means that the sum of all of that commerce—known as GDP—has declined.

Analysts and journalists focus on how quickly GDP is changing to help people understand the direction that a country’s economy is headed. But the level of GDP can also be used as a snapshot of a nation’s income. Portioning GDP per each resident, we get an estimate of the current prosperity of the average person.

In the first quarter of 2020, prosperity dropped around the world, sometimes severely. Though even in the worst affected places, prosperity only dropped to levels last seen in recent years.

For context, let’s take a chart trip around the world to some richer countries and consider what folks were saying about their economies the last time per-capita GDP was this low. Keep in mind the most recent data point covers the first three months of the year—the very beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak.

France

The third quarter of 2017 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in France.

What was said then:

“Experts say France moved into a higher gear. Domestic demand drove the growth, with household spending and business investment both up.” —The Guardian


Spain

The third quarter of 2017 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Spain.

What was said then:

“Spain’s economy has staged an impressive turnround over the last few years after being one of the most badly-affected countries during the financial crisis.” —The Financial Times (paywall)


Italy

The third quarter of 2017 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Italy.

What was said then:

“Italy is being tugged along by strong European and global growth but it remains the euro zone’s most sluggish performer.” —Reuters


Mexico

The fourth quarter of 2017 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Mexico.

What was said then:

“The Mexican economy staged a recovery in the fourth quarter, expanding at its fastest pace in a year as the country shook off the impact of natural disasters” —The Wall Street Journal


Canada

The second quarter of 2018 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Canada.

What was said then:

“A surge in exports of energy, aircraft and pharmaceutical products helped propel Canada’s economy higher in the second quarter of this year” —CTV


Austria

The third quarter of 2018 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Austria.

What was said then:

“Economic growth remains favourable with the economy remaining on track” —ING


Belgium

The third quarter of 2018 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Belgium.

What was said then:

“Business sentiment indicators in Belgium’s production and export sectors have weakened gradually since mid-year as the US-China trade dispute has escalated and demand across the euro zone and in many emerging markets has softened.” —The Economist Intelligence Unit


Portugal

The fourth quarter of 2018 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Portugal.

What was said then:

“Momentum is expected to wane again in 2019. A less dynamic tourism sector and a weaker export performance, amid a more challenging external terrain, are seen dragging on growth.” —Focus Economics


United Kingdom

The fourth quarter of 2018 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in United Kingdom.

What was said then:

“UK growth slowed sharply in the final three months of 2018 as Brexit anxiety weighed on consumers and firms” —The Guardian


Switzerland

The fourth quarter of 2018 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Switzerland.

What was said then:

“Domestic demand in Switzerland has been weak due because of tepid wage rises, while investments by companies have also become subdued.” —Reuters


Germany

The fourth quarter of 2018 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Germany.

What was said then:

“The quarter rounded out a year in which overall growth was the weakest since 2013.” —Bloomberg


Finland

The first quarter of 2019 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Finland.

What was said then:

“Finland’s economic growth slowed more than estimated at the start of the year, dragged down by decline in consumer spending and investments.” —Bloomberg


Greece

The first quarter of 2019 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Greece.

What was said then:

“The 1.5 percent growth rate recorded in the first half of 2019…raises the bar for the new government to secure the growth it seeks.” —Ekathimerini


Netherlands

The first quarter of 2019 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Netherlands.

What was said then:

“Along with other countries, the Netherlands has seen manufacturing suffer recently. Factory production has fallen in three of the past four months on a year-on-year basis.” —Bloomberg


Israel

The second quarter of 2019 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in Israel.

What was said then:

“The broader underperformance was skewed by a one-off spike in auto imports, spurred by a tax change, earlier in 2019 that boosted first-quarter growth to its highest level in three years. Weaker investment and private consumption also hobbled the economy.” —Bloomberg


United States

The second quarter of 2019 was the last time per-capita GDP was this low in United States.

What was said then:

“The expansion was buoyed by big spending by both consumers and the government, offsetting an unexpected slump in business investment.” —Quartz


The OECD releases second quarter figures on Sept. 14.

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