November 9, 2010
Economic gloom and doom aside, America remains the world's richest large country. It's generally estimated to have a per capita GDP level around $45,000, while the richest European nations manage only a $40,000 or so per capita GDP (setting aside low population, oil-rich states like Norway). Wealth underlies America's sense of itself as a special country, and it's also cited as evidence that America is better than other economies on a range of variables, from economic freedom to optimism to business savvy to work ethic.
But why exactly is America so rich? Karl Smith ventures an explanation:
I am going to go pretty conventional on this one and say a combination of three big factors
1. The Common Law
2. Massive Immigration
3. The Great Scientific Exodus during WWII
You’ll notice that four of the top five countries in the Human Development Index have the Common Law and the top, Norway, is a awash in oil. Without the petro-kronors they probably wouldn’t be so hot.
You’ll also notice that 3 of the top 4, again with Norway the odd man out, are immigrant nations. The founder effect here should be clear.
The bonus from the great exodus is definitely waning. Most of our hey-day German and Jewish scientists are dying off, but its still given us a boost that lingers to this day. There is no fundamental reason why the US should be the center of the scientific world but for a time it was the only place in the world safe for many scientists.