Canada, U.S. GDP: For First Time On Record, Canadians May Be Wealthier Than Americans

The Huffington Post Canada   First Posted: 12/24/2011 9:58 am Updated: 12/24/2011 10:49 am

This year, for the first time on record, Canadians may have exceeded their American neighbours in wealth.

According to estimates from the IMF, flagged by Kevin Carmichael at the Globe and Mail, Canada’s gross domestic product per person is on track to be $51,147 per person in Canada, compared to $48,147 in the United States.

It’s a reflection of the persistent weakness of the U.S. economy since the financial crisis began in 2008, and the relative strength of Canada’s economy, which has benefited from high commodity prices and surging demand in developing countries.

And according to available data, it may be the first time in history that Canadians have been richer than their brethren south of the border.

Historical data shows the U.S.’s per capita GDP in 1900 was $4,096 in constant U.S. dollars, while Canada’s was $2,758. In 1950, the U.S. was at $9,753, while Canada was at $7,047. By 1973, the U.S. led Canada $16,607 to $13,644.

Canada’s relative strength is a surprise to many economists, who have been warning that the country's lagging productivity gains would hurt its economic growth in the long term.

Data from Statistics Canada shows that, even as Canada’s GDP growth has exceeded the U.S.’s by five per cent over the past 14 years, its productivity per worker has shrunk more than 15 per cent relative to U.S. workers.

So how can Canadians be getting richer when their productivity has fallen so far behind the U.S.?

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, economists may have overstated the importance of productivity growth -- particularly for a commodities exporter like Canada. The Journal cites a report from Statistics Canada suggesting Canadians may not have to be as productive as Americans in order to enjoy a higher standard of living -- simply because we’re getting more money for the things we sell.

“When nations trade, there are other routes that can raise living standards,” Statscan’s Ryan Macdonald writes. “Trading nations can transform their stock of assets (knowledge, capital, resources) into the goods and services they want to consume by exchanging them with other nations. If the terms at which one nation can trade with another improve, then that nation can transform its exports into a greater flow of imported goods and services, thereby increasing its living standards.”

In other words, because the price of oil and other commodities has gone up, we’re able to buy more for what we produce -- essentially overcoming our lagging productivity.


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    Canada's household debt burden climbed to yet another record high in the third-quarter, prompting Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney to call it <a href="" target="_hplink">"the greatest risk to the domestic economy</a>." At 150.8, <a href="" target="_hplink">Canada's debt-to-income ratio is now higher than in the U.S. or the U.K</a>. Meanwhile, household net worth fell, which, as many observers have warned, has made Canadians more vulnerable to adverse economic shocks.


    Though BMO's Doug Porter maintains that low interest rates and modest job growth should prevent household debt issue from becoming "a clear and present danger to the outlook in the year ahead," he predicts that the debt burden is likely to increase. Unlike in the U.S., Canada's consumer recession was "very mild," leaving scant room for growth in consumer spending, he says. "At best, we see consumer spending growing in line with income next year," he said. "We've actually pegged it a little bit below income growth next year ... at less than two per cent in 2012." (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)


    When TD cut its 2012 outlook for the Canadian economy earlier this week to 1.7 per cent, the bank cited a deepening fiscal crisis in the eurozone as one of the primary factors. More bearish than BMO, which on Thursday held its expectation for Canada's GDP growth next year at two per cent, TD is forecasting "a deterioration of financial conditions and a significant European recession in the first half of next year." "<a href="" target="_hplink">A deepening recession in the region will exert a significant drag on the global economy</a>," the bank maintained. "Canada will be negatively impacted through weaker commodity prices, confidence and export growth. Labour markets will also soften as a result." (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)


    The signs are abundant that the world's largest economy is cooling. Mounting local government debt and slowdowns in everything from industrial production to <a href="" target="_hplink">the housing market has led many to predict softer economic growth in 2012</a>. "<a href="" target="_hplink">Real estate is a locomotive industry that leads at least 58 other industries</a>," Cai Weimin, who runs a real estate think tank in Shanghai, told NPR. "Doomsday probably won't come true in 2012, but for the Chinese economy, 2012 will be a very tough year. (Aaron tam/AFP/Getty Images)


    As Canada's rich-poor divide widens, some experts warn that the concentration of wealth at the top of the income distribution and stagnating wages for everyone else could be a drag on the economy. Though Canada's income gap is not as pronounced as in the U.S., Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economist Armine Yalnizyan argues that the growing divide is bad for business all the same. <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>Mind The Gap: Our examination of Canada's growing income divide</strong></a> "<a href="" target="_hplink">Real growth in purchasing power has been restricted to a small fraction of Canadian consumers</a> in what is already a small market," she maintained in an op-ed in Canadian Business magazine. "Throttling aggregate demand slows the economy for everyone." Anne Golden, president and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada, echoes this sentiment. "Growing inequality distorts consumer patterns," she told The Huffington Post in a recent interview. "Most businesses, except maybe for Porsche [dealerships], rely on rising purchasing power of the many, not the few, to deliver growth and profits." (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)