A country’s wealth can go through drastic changes over the centuries or even a few decades. In fact, multiple nations that are considered poor today were once among the world’s richest, boasting incredible economic fortunes.
Let’s go back in time, about 500 years ago or so, to discover the 10 countries that have gone from super rich to terribly poor.
Nowadays, Thailand’s GDP per capita is only about $6,000, which is way below the global average. But back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ayutthaya Kingdom (modern-day Thailand) was wealthier than several nations in Europe.
The splendid kingdom was the heart of trade on an international level. It welcomed traders from all over the globe with warmth and exchanged goods with merchants from Japan, China, France, and Portugal.
Unfortunately, the glorious times came to an end as the trade declined in the early 18th century. And the bloody game of thrones destabilized the monarchy and made of the then-kingdom a weak target for neighboring Burmese invaders. So Ayutthaya was largely destroyed and the country re-emerged as the less powerful modern Thailand.
With a GDP per capita of as little as $837, Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Not only this country is prone to drought, it is also one of the least developed countries and a large part of its population relies on farming to survive.
But things were different hundreds of years! Back in time, Mali was one of Africa’s largest and richest empires. The empire was thriving under Emperor Mansa Musa I, who reigned from 1312 to 1337 and was among the richest people ever with a fortune which equals about $415 billion.
Musa possessed ½ of the world’s gold supply, trading with merchants from Venice, Genoa, Persia, and Egypt. Moreover, Timbuktu was famous for trade, culture, and learning.
After the 16th century, Mali’s fortunes and power had drastically diminished, and the country remained in poverty ever since as a shadow of its former self.
Although Turkey isn’t poor at all, it still isn’t super rich too. With a GDP per capita of about $11,000, the country is considered an emerging market economy (meeting the global average but below most European countries.)
The Ottoman Empire had a GDP which was two-thirds that of Western Europe during the 16th century. The affluent empire gained attained superpower status during the reign of the famous Sultan Suleiman, who was presided over a golden age of spectacular artistic achievement, unprecedented prosperity, and military expertise.
But in the 1700s, Europe’s colonial powers overtook the Empire. Although the Ottomans attempted to catch up during the 19th century by modernizing the economy, they were fighting a losing battle.
Furthermore, in World War I, the nation sided with Germany, resulting in the confiscation of most of its territories. And after the Turkish War of Independence, the country came back to life as today’s Republic of Turkey.
With a stubborn GDP per capita of around $7,000, India is way below the global average. Although plenty of efforts have been made to combat extreme poverty, hundreds of millions of Indians hardly have enough food or money to live on.
However, back when India was rather known as the Mughal Empire, which was established in 1526, the country was joyfully rolling in money.
During the 18th century, the Empire became the world’s foremost economic power, as well as the leading manufacturing country. Mughal India’s real wages and living standards even surpassed England’s.
During the late 18th century, the empire was destroyed due to internal conflict, giving a golden chance for the British to take over in 1858. By that point, India had lost much of its wealth and power.
Latvia has been taken over by foreign powers for centuries until it finally declared independence in 1918. And from the 1920s to 1930s, the country was richer than Denmark, Finland, and other neighbors.
During this time, the economy continued to flourish fueled by timber exports and buoyant agricultural until Latvia’s standard living eclipsed that of the Scandinavian countries.
Unfortunately, the period of glorious prosperity didn’t last long, as the country was ravaged by the Soviets and Nazis during the 2nd World War. And Latvia kept on suffering until it regained independence in the 90s. But regardless of its significant economic strides, Latvia is still far behind the Scandinavian nations.
Cuba has been impoverished by years and years of communist rule and crippling American sanctions, with a current GDP per capita of only $7,815. The Cuban government is actually struggling to offer appropriate essentials, including transportation and housing.
Before the Cuban Revolution which was led by Fidel Castro, the nation boasted one of the highest GDPs per capita in the US, along with booming tourism and sugar industries. Cuba boasted flourishing economies!
Sadly, the 50s came with extreme wealth inequality and the country (which was then suffering under military rule) was contaminated by prostitution, drug dealing, and crime.
After the revolution, Cuba’s economy reached a low point in the early nineties and hasn’t really recovered ever since.
Iraq was turning into a highly developed nation between the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to abundant oil and gas reserves, especially with the increase in oil prices that followed the 1973’s oil crisis.
Iraq boasted a high standard of living, in addition to advanced healthcare, social services, and infrastructure.
But as soon as Saddam Hussein formally gained power, the country’s prospects rapidly declined as he dragged the country into a ravaging long-lasting war with Iran. Then Iraq’s tortured financial situation was made much worse by the drop in oil prices and internal corruption.
By the end of the decade, the economy was severely damaged to only star recovering after 2011.
During the 80s, Zimbabwe’s economy was prosperous thanks to the nation’s lucrative agricultural sector and bountiful natural resources, but as soon as the 90s, cracks started popping up because of the worsening financial situation.
During 2000, the government started seizing Zimbabwe’s white-owned farms, but this policy ended up being catastrophic. Sadly, the farms’ new owners had no agricultural skills or experience, causing the production to severely decline and terribly damaging the economy.
By 2003, hyperinflation kicked in and the unemployment rate hit a scary 95 percent! And since then, not much has improved.
During the 70s, of Nauru was super wealthy, thanks to its bountiful deposits of phosphate, which offered this tiny Pacific island nation the world’s highest GDP per capita of nearly $20,000.
Nauru’s government started building luxury hotels and a golf course, as well as purchasing aircraft, ships, supercars, swanky homes, and much more, while the population was only about 7,000 during the seventies 1970s. Not to mention a mismanaged $1 billion, which was kept as a reserve.
In the 80s, Nauru was left with heavy debts, and by 2000, the country’s banking systems and telecoms shut down. All of this has resulted in widespread poverty and the curse to face a very dark future.
Venezuela went from being one of the healthiest economies in Latin America to the most ailing. In the past few years, the country’s economy declined by 35 percent and GDP per capita had shrunk by as much as 40 percent!
In 2014, the economy was severely devastated following the sharp drop in oil prices, given that it overly relies on oil. Plus, Venezuela’s socialist government failed to diversify the economy when the oil prices increased.
The situation got even worse as the government refused to accept foreign aid and applied rigid price controls, leading to chronic shortages of essentials, including medicines and food.
As for today, hunger is widespread, crime is beyond control, and social tensions are rapidly increasing.