Economists agree that the richest countries in the world are those where the gross domestic product per capita is the highest. To put this simply, calculating the total amount of goods produced within a country and dividing this by its population is currently the universal method of calculating the wealth of a nation.
However, it should be borne in mind that this indicator, GDP per capita, is not proof of the average wage earned by an individual living in a given nation. It is important to understand that these figures are merely averages and that wealth is not dispersed evenly. In each country, there are citizens who are well above and others who fall very much below these figures.
The top 10 wealthiest countries in the world
The International Monetary Fund publishes a comprehensive ranking of the 236 countries and regions around the globe. Here’s a look at the top ten as of October 2021:
Fig.1.Top 10 richest countries in the world, by GDP per capita (US dollars)
Let’s dive deeper into the top 3 on the list.
In 2021, this country’s GDP per capita achieved a record-breaking US$131,300. Although the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the national economy, with companies forced to close and workers losing their jobs, the country managed to overcome the impacts of the epidemic better than most of its European neighbors in 2020. As a result, Luxembourg’s GDP increased by 5.3% in the period between July and September of 2021 compared to the same period the previous year.
While countries within the Eurozone grew by barely 1.5% in 2019, Ireland’s economy registered an increase of more than 4.9%, making it the region’s fastest-growing nation. In 2020, its GDP increased by 5.8% and in 2021 by an incredible 13% according to the IMF projections.
With a population of 8.6 million people, this nation owes a large portion of its income to banking and insurance services. In addition, it benefits from tourism and exports of gold (US$59 billion), pharmaceuticals (US$46.2B), and cultures of micro-organisms excluding yeasts (US$32.9 billion) as well as precision tools and machinery.
According to research by Credit Suisse, in 2020 the country had the highest wealth per adult on the planet. In sum, 800,000 millionaires live in Switzerland although all of this money was still insufficient to protect the country’s economy from the impact of COVID-19 with the economy surging by only 2.5%.
However, it could have been worse, considering the situation in neighboring Italy where production declined by 8.8%, in Spain where the contraction was 10.8%, and in France whose economy declined by 7.9%.
Switzerland’s consistent policy response through emergency expenditure and containment measures, together with its fully developed banking sector and high exports, allowed the authorities to reduce the contraction of the economy.
The top 3 richest countries in the world (by continent)
Source: International Monetary Fund
The top 10 richest countries in the world (by national net wealth in US dollars)
Another way of highlighting the differences between rich and poor nations is wealth comparison whereby the national net wealth is the sum of a nation’s assets less its liabilities. This indicates the entire value of net wealth held by the citizens of a state at a certain point in time.
In 2020, in the list of the world’s wealthiest countries, China exceeded the United States to reach first place with that nation’s wealth showing a significant increase from US$7 trillion in 2000 to a whopping US$120 trillion in 2020.
*The graph below shows the increase in net worth throughout the 2000-2020 period while the information on Mexico is from 2003-2020.
A very effective way of assessing the wealth of a nation is by estimating its GDP per capita. As the reports show, most of the wealthiest nations did a good job during the COVID-19 pandemic and some even showed great results in exporting goods such as Switzerland. In terms of total wealth, China was able to reach number one position, significantly surpassing all of its ‘competitors’ including former number 1, the US.