The World Could Soon Be a “High-Income” Country

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Sept. 4 2013 1:58 PM

The World Could Soon Be a “High-Income” Country

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Indonesian customers enter a money changer office in Jakarta on September 4, 2013.

Photo by ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images

If the world were one country, how rich would it be? According to one measure, it’s approaching the top bracket.

The World Bank breaks countries down into four categories by gross national income: low, lower-middle, upper-middle, and high. The cutoffs for these categories are regularly revised but as of 2012, with a GNI of $10,015.32, the world would be in the upper-middle income bracket:” $4,086-$12,615.

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But as economist David Lizoain points out in a blog post for Social Europe (via Branko Milanovic), “Over the past decade, world GNI per capita has gone from about 60% of the high income threshold to just under 80% of the threshold. The absolute difference has also been shrinking. If the world were a country, in the next few decades it should reach a point where it could be categorized as high income.” He charted the trend in the graph below:

1.-GNI-and-cutoff (1)

This is partly a story of overall incomes increasing, but also a good demonstration of why national income isn’t a very good way to measure a country’s overall well-being. This increase in global income has happened at the same time that global inequality has been rapidly increasing. The fact that you live in a high-income world isn’t that much of a comfort if you still live in a low-income country. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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