The Story of Globalization in 1 Graph

A crystal-clear picture of the world's winners and losers in the last generation

Imagine you lined up every human being in the world by income, divided them into 100 groups ("percentiles") ranging from lowest to highest, and asked: How has the last generation of economic growth been for you?

This is the answer. It's a graph of real income growth for the entire world population, regardless of country, from poor to rich, drawn by Branko Milanovic, the lead economist of the World Bank’s research department.

Source: Milanovic, B., Lead Economist, World Bank Research Department, Global income inequality by the numbers.

Globalization has winners and losers. The winners—particularly the upwardly mobile middle classes of China, India, Indonesia,Brazil, and Egypt—occupy the long hump of this elephant-like line. They have seen their inflation-adjusted incomes grow by 70 percent or more. The world's "1%" (which works out to the top 12 percent of the U.S., or households making more than $130,000) is also racing away with income, particularly at the tippy-top.

But the story for world's poorest percentiles has been the same as for the developed world's lower-middle class: No growth or worse.

The graph is a real print-and-saver, because even as we debate the sad geography of social mobility in the United States, the true geography of social mobility is global. And it has been a far happier story. The typical Chinese worker in 1988 was richer than only 10 percent of the globe's workers. Today he's richer than half the world. The typical Indian worker has moved from the 10th percentile to the 27th in the world; the Indonesian has gone from 25th to 39th; and in Brazil, from 40th to 66th.

Note this graph does not take into consideration the aftermath of the Great Recession, which has particularly hurt the "developed world middle class" group.

(Via Joe Weisenthal)

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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