Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Region's gross domestic product, or GDP, is one of several measures of the size of its economy. The GDP of a country is defined as the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time. Until the 1980s the term GNP or gross national product was used. The two terms GDP and GNP are almost identical. The most common approach to measuring and understanding GDP is the expenditure method:

GDP = consumption + investment + government spending + (exports - imports)

"Gross" means depreciation of capital stock included. Without depreciation, with net investment instead of gross investment, it is the Net domestic product. Consumption and investment in this equation are the expenditure on final goods and services. The exports minus imports part of the equation (often called cumulative exports) then adjusts this by subtracting the part of this expenditure not produced domestically (the imports), and adding back in domestic production not consumed at home (the exports).

Economists (since Keynes) have preferred to split the general consumption term into two parts; private consumption, and public sector (or government) spending. Two advantages of dividing total consumption this way in theoretical macroeconomics are:

Private consumption is a central concern of welfare economics. The private investment and trade portions of the economy are ultimately directed (in mainstream economic models) to increases in long-term private consumption. If separated from endogenous private consumption, government consumption can be treated as exogenous, so that different government spending levels can be considered within a meaningful macroeconomic framework. Therefore GDP can be expressed as:

GDP = private consumption + government + investment + net exports

(or simply GDP = C + G + I + X - M (X - M accounts for exports - imports)

The components of GDP

Each of the variables C, I, G, and NX :

C is private consumption (or Consumer expenditures) in the economy. This includes most personal expenditures of households such as food, rent, medical expenses and so on.

I is defined as business investments in capital. Examples of investment by a business include construction of a new mine, purchase of software, or purchase of machinery and equipment for a factory. 'Investment' in GDP is meant very specifically as non-financial product purchases. Buying financial products is classed as saving in macroeconomics, as opposed to investment (which, in the GDP formula is a form of spending). The distinction is (in theory) clear: if money is converted into goods or services, without a repayment liability it is investment. For example, if you buy a bond or a share, the ownership of the money has only nominally changed hands, and this transfer payment is excluded from the GDP sum. Although such purchases would be called investments in normal speech, from the total-economy point of view, this is simply swapping of deeds, and not part of the real economy or the GDP formula.

G is the sum of government expenditures on final goods and services. It includes salaries of public servants, purchase of weapons for the military, and any investment expenditure by a government. It does not include any transfer payments, such as social security or unemployment benefits. The relative size of government expenditure compared to GDP as a whole is critical in the theory of crowding out, and the Keynesian cross.

NX are "net exports" in the economy (gross exports - gross imports; also (X-M)). GDP captures the amount a country produces, including goods and services produced for overseas consumption, therefore exports are added. Imports are subtracted since imported goods will be included in the terms G, I, or C, and must be deducted to avoid counting foreign supply as domestic.

Examples of GDP component variables

Examples of C, I, G, & NX: If you spend money to renovate your hotel so that occupancy rates increase, that is private investment, but if you buy shares in a consortium to do the same thing it is saving. The former is included when measuring GDP (in I), the latter is not. However, when the consortium conducted its own expenditure on renovation, that expenditure would be included in GDP.

If the hotel is your private home your renovation spending would be measured as Consumption, but if a government agency is converting the hotel into an office for civil servants the renovation spending would be measured as part of public sector spending (G).

If the renovation involves the purchase of a chandelier from abroad, that spending would also be counted as an increase in imports, so that NX would fall and the total GDP is unaffected by the purchase. (This highlights the fact that GDP is intended to measure domestic production rather than total consumption or spending. Spending is really a convenient means of estimating production.)

If you are paid to manufacture the chandelier to hang in a foreign hotel the situation would be reversed, and the payment you receive would be counted in NX (positively, as an export). Again, we see that GDP is attempting to measure production through the means of expenditure; if the chandelier you produced had been bought domestically it would have been included in the GDP figures (in C or I) when purchased by a consumer or a business, but because it was exported it is necessary to 'correct' the amount consumed domestically to give the amount produced domestically. (As in Gross Domestic Product.).

Difference from aggregate expenditure

An alternative measure of the economy to GDP is the aggregate expenditure measure, which is identical to GDP except that it excludes items produced but not purchased (net inventory/stock level growth). If the economy produces more goods than are sold, the increase in inventory would generally be included in the GDP figure (as "Investment"). GDP counts these changes in inventory levels as investment.

The GDP income account

Another way of measuring GDP is to measure the total income payable in the GDP income accounts. This should provide the same figure as the expenditure method described above.

The formula for GDP measured using the income approach, called GDP(I), is:

GDP = Compensation of employees + Gross operating surplus + Gross mixed income + Taxes less subsidies on production and imports

Compensation of employees (COE) measures the total remuneration to employees for work done. It includes wages and salaries, as well as employer contributions to social security and other such programs.

Gross operating surplus (GOS) is the surplus due to owners of incorporated businesses. Often called profits, although only a subset of total costs are subtracted from gross output to calculate GOS.

Gross mixed income (GMI) is the same measure as GOS, but for unincorporated businesses. This often includes most small businesses.

The sum of COE, GOS and GMI is called total factor income, and measures the value of GDP at factor (basic) prices.The difference between basic prices and final prices (those used in the expenditure calculation) is the total taxes and subsidies that the Government has levied or paid on that production. So adding taxes less subsidies on production and imports converts GDP at factor cost to GDP(I).

Another formula can be written as this:

GDP = R + I + P + SA + W

R = rents

I = interests

P = profits

SA = statistical adjustments (corporate income taxes, dividends, undistributed corporate profits)

W = wages

Cross-border comparison

The level of GDP in different countries may be compared by converting their value in national currency according to either current currency exchange rate: GDP calculated by exchange rates prevailing on international currency markets purchasing power parity exchange rate: GDP calculated by purchasing power parity (PPP) of each currency relative to a selected standard (usually the United States dollar). The relative ranking of countries may differ dramatically between the two approaches.

The current exchange rate method converts the value of goods and services using global currency exchange rates. This can offer better indications of a country's international purchasing power and relative economic strength. For instance, if 10% of GDP is being spent on buying hi-tech foreign arms, the number of weapons purchased is entirely governed by current exchange rates, since arms are a traded product bought on the international market (there is no meaningful 'local' price distinct from the international price for high technology goods).

The purchasing power parity method accounts for the relative effective domestic purchasing power of the average producer or consumer within an economy. This can be a better indicator of the living standards of less-developed countries because it compensates for the weakness of local currencies in world markets. The PPP method of GDP conversion is most relevant to non-traded goods and services.

There is a clear pattern of the purchasing power parity method decreasing the disparity in GDP between high and low income (GDP) countries, as compared to the current exchange rate method. This finding is called the Penn effect.

GDP and standard of living

GDP per capita is often used as an indicator of standard of living in an economy. While this approach has advantages, many criticisms of GDP focus on its use as an indicator of standard of living.

The major advantages to using GDP per capita as an indicator of standard of living are that it is measured frequently, widely and consistently; frequently in that most countries provide information on GDP on a quarterly basis (which allows a user to spot trends more quickly), widely in that some measure of GDP is available for practically every country in the world (allowing crude comparisons between the standard of living in different countries), and consistently in that the technical definitions used within GDP are relatively consistent between countries, and so there can be confidence that the same thing is being measured in each country.

The major disadvantage of using GDP as an indicator of standard of living is that it is not, strictly speaking, a measure of standard of living. GDP is intended to be a measure of particular types of economic activity within a country. Nothing about the definition of GDP suggests that it is necessarily a measure of standard of living. For instance, in an extreme example, a country which exported 100 per cent of its production would still have a high GDP, but a very poor standard of living.

The argument in favour of using GDP is not that it is a good indicator of standard of living, but rather that (all other things being equal) standard of living tends to increase when GDP per capita increases. This makes GDP a proxy for standard of living, rather than a direct measure of it. There are a number of controversies about this use of GDP.


Although GDP is widely used by economists, its value as an indicator for the standard of living has also been the subject of controversy (an alternative is the United Nations' Human Development Index). Criticisms of how the GDP is used include: GDP does not take into account the black market, where the money spent isn't registered, and the non-monetary economy, where no money comes into play at all, resulting in inaccurate or abnormally low GDP figures. For example, in countries with major business transactions occurring informally, portions of local economy are not easily registered. Bartering may be more prominent than the use of money, even extending to services (I helped you build your house ten years ago, so now you help me).

This mainstream economic analysis ignores the environment, subsistence production and domestic work. The current system counts oil spills and wars as contributors to economic growth, while child-rearing and housekeeping are deemed valueless. The work of New Zealand economist, Marilyn Waring, has highlighted that if a concerted attempt to factor in unpaid work were made, then it would in part, undo the injustices of unpaid (and in some cases, slave) labour, and also provide the political transparency and accountability necessary for democracy.

It ignores volunteer, unpaid work. For example, Linux contributes nothing to GDP, but it was estimated that it would have cost more than a billion US dollars for a commercial company to develop.

Very often different calculations of GDP are confused among each other. For cross-border comparisons one should especially regard whether it is calculated by purchasing power parity (PPP) method or current exchange rate method. GDP counts work that produces no net change or that results from repairing harm. For example, rebuilding after a natural disaster or war may produce a considerable amount of economic activity and thus boost GDP, but it would have been far better if the disaster had never occurred in the first place. The economic value of health care is another classic example - it may raise GDP if many people are sick and they are receiving expensive treatment, but it is not a desirable situation. Alternative economic measures, such as the standard of living or discretionary income per capita better measure the human utility of economic activity.

Quality of life - human happiness - is determined by many other things than physical goods and services. Even the alternative economic measures of standard of living and discretionary income do not take these factors into account. As the single most important figure in statistics it is subject to fraud, such as the usage of hedonic price indexing on official GDP numbers in the US, thereby creating investments out of nothing while statistically dampening inflation.

Cross border trade within companies distorts the GDP and is done frequently to escape high taxation. Examples include the German Ebay that evades German tax by doing business in Switzerland, and American companies that have founded holdings in Ireland to "buy" their own products for cheap from their continental factories (without shipping) and selling them for profit via Ireland - thereby reducing their taxes and increasing Irish GDP.

People may buy cheap, low-durability goods over and over again, or they may buy high-durability goods less often. It is possible that the monetary value of the items sold in the first case is higher than that in the second case, in which case a higher GDP is simply the result of greater inefficiency and waste. (This is not always the case; durable goods are often more difficult to produce than flimsy goods, and consumers have a financial incentive to find the cheapest long-term option. With goods that are undergoing rapid change, such as in fashion or high technology, the short lifespan may increase customer satisfaction by allowing them to have newer products.)

If a nation does not spend, but saves and invests overseas, as Japan does, its GDP will be diminished in comparison to one that spends borrowed money, like the US; thus accumulated savings and debt are not taken into account so long as adequate financing continues.

GDP does not measure the sustainability of growth. A country may achieve a temporarily high GDP by over-exploiting natural resources or by misallocating investment. For example, the large deposits of phosphates gave the people of Nauru one of the highest per capita incomes on earth, but since 1989 their standard of living has declined sharply as the supply has run out. Oil-rich states can sustain high GDPs without industrializing, but this high level will not be sustainable past the point when the oil runs out. Economies experiencing an economic bubble, such as a housing bubble or stock bubble, or a low private-saving rate tend to appear to grow faster due to higher consumption, mortgaging their futures for present growth. Economic growth at the expense of environmental degradation can end up costing dearly to clean up; GDP does not account for this in places such as USA that refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol but being the biggest CO2 producer of the world or as China.

As a measure of actual sale prices, GDP does not capture the economic surplus between the price paid and subjective value received, and can therefore underestimate aggregate utility.

The annual growth of real GDP is adjusted by using the "GDP deflator", which tends to underestimate the objective differences in the quality of manufactured output over time. (The deflator is explicitly based on subjective experience when measuring such things as the consumer benefit received from computer-power improvements since the early 1980s). Therefore the GDP figure may underestimate the degree to which improving technology and quality-level are increasing the real standard of living.

GDP does not take disparity in incomes between the rich and poor into account. See income inequality metrics for discussion of a variety of complementary economic measures.

Some economists have attempted to create a replacement for GDP called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which attempts to address many of the above criticisms. Many nations calculate a national wealth, a sum of all assets in a nation, but this again does not account for future obligations such as environmental degradation, asset bubbles, and debt. Other nations such as Bhutan have advocated gross national happiness as a standard of living. (Bhutan claims to be the world's happiest nation.)

List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita

This article includes a list of countries of the world sorted by their gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita, the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year divided by the average population for the same year.

GDP dollar estimates here are derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) calculations. Such calculations are prepared by various organisations, including the International Monetary Fund, the University of Pennsylvania, and the World Bank. As estimates and assumptions have to be made, the results produced by different organisations for the same country tend to differ, sometimes substantially. PPP per capita figures are estimates rather than hard facts, and should be used with caution.

Comparisons of national wealth are also frequently made on the basis of nominal GDP, which does not reflect differences in the cost of living in different countries. (See List of countries by GDP (nominal) per capita.) The advantages of using nominal GDP figures include that less estimation is required, and that they more accurately reflect the participation of the inhabitants of a country in the global economy. On the whole PPP per capita figures are more narrowly spread than GDP per capita figures.

Great care should be taken when using either set of figures to compare the wealth of two countries. Often people who wish to promote or denigrate a country will use the figure that suits their case best and ignore the other one, which may be substantially different, but a valid comparison of two economies should take both rankings into account, as well as utilising other economic data to put an economy in context.

The table below includes data for the year 2005 for all 180 members of the International Monetary Fund, for which information is available. Data are in International dollars.


$ per capita

3United States41,399
9Hong Kong33,411
18United Kingdom30,470
23United Arab Emirates27,957
24Republic of China (Taiwan)27,572
27New Zealand24,769
29Netherlands Antilles, Netherlands22,750
33South Korea20,590
34The Bahamas20,076
38Czech Republic18,375
42Equatorial Guinea16,507
46Saudi Arabia15,229
47Saint Kitts and Nevis14,649
48Trinidad and Tobago14,258
54South Africa12,160
59Antigua and Barbuda11,523
63Costa Rica10,434
80Republic of Macedonia7,645
82Saint Vincent and the Grenadines7,493
84People's Republic of China7,204
85Dominican Republic7,203
92Cape Verde6,418
96Bosnia and Herzegovina6,035
98Saint Lucia5,950
100Serbia and Montenegro5,348

Source - "Wikipedia"

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