The USA has been the world's strongest country for a long time now.

Even after the rise of China as one of the dominant economies in the world, the USA is still the world's top economy.

Does the USA just happen to be the world's strongest economy, or are there any historical traits involved?

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    You should look at Samuel Russel's answer here history.stackexchange.com/a/2337/114
    – MichaelF
    Commented Aug 25, 2012 at 10:04
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    BROY, if you're going to ask about anthropological reasons for historical facts, make that a question all by itself -- it's far removed from the rest of what historians study.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 25, 2012 at 16:41
  • @MichaelF Why thank you, I think it fits this question rather well too! :) Commented Aug 25, 2012 at 23:58
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    If one would consider the EU to be a country, it would have been the biggest economy in the world. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_European_Union
    – David
    Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 9:45
  • "Even after the rise of China" China is still on the rise.
    – user202
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 11:06

5 Answers 5


Historically (and I'm stealing heavily from Stratfor.com), USA was in an enviable position of combining:

  • economy-friendly geography (large interconnected navigable rivers systems, great safe ports, agriculture-friendly lands)

  • militarily-friendly (post 1870s) world position (no heavy military threat from east or west and pretty much none from the north)

  • Economic-growth friendly policies (immigration relying on self-selection; lower taxes; lower regulation).

  • It would be a better answer if you included examples, but +1 anyway.
    – Russell
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 7:39

Geoffrey Blainy, one of Australia's greatest historians, dedicated about 2 pages or so to a chapter entitled The Paradox of Isolation. He said that places like the USA or Australia advance slowly in the beginning because they are isolated: they don't trade with anyone, they don't share inovation with anyone, they don't even have the need to innovate, because innovation is only sparked when it is necessary. However, at the same time, Blainy also said that isolation, though in the beginning can be hampering, is helpful in the long run, because an isolated nation cannot be attacked, just like Great Britain and the Channel.

What I am trying to get at is that America's isolation was its salvation. In both world wars, America was able and willing to stay neutral for a long long time, and as a result, spent less and earned more on the wars than Europe did. Another example is Great Britain. During the 1800s, Britain persued isolationist policies, and was the greatest empire on earth. By WW1, Great Britain was unable to persue isolation; Germany was building up its navy, and Britain was unable to maintain the two-power standard and was on the decline.

Nowadays, America's isolation is not guaranteed. America has so many obligations around the world that if there is a war, America will be involved. Nor does the USA have isolation from economic problems. Some might even venture to say that the USA is at the beginning of its decline.

Based on the evidence, it seems that isolation is one of the many building factor of a great nation; America and Britain both succeeded because of isolation, and both seem to or have fallen because of loss of isolation.

GDP per capita growth before and after WW2: Note the sudden rise at around 1940.


  • Do you have any numeric data showing that USA grew faster during the wars?
    – zefciu
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 6:59
  • @zefciu, hang on, let me find some.
    – Russell
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 7:51
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    This theory of "Isolation" doesn't seem to be practical to me. USA and Canada has gone through very similar situation. How does Canada comply with the theory? And, how about Mexico?
    – user806
    Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 2:25
  • @BROY, Canada was never really isolated; It was always a Dominon of Great Britain, and in many British wars, however reluctant, joined in. However, you are right that isolation doesn't explain everything. As the answer Tom Au shows, education, image, population, and open-mindedness, all play a huge part in the shaping of a nation. PS, changing my answer to say "one of the building factors of a nation.
    – Russell
    Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 5:55

The United States is one of the five largest countries in the world by area. The others are Russia, Canada, China, and Brazil. Of these five, the United States has the largest amount of land in temperate, agriculturally and industrially suitable climates. Russia and Canada are (mostly) too far north, China and Brazil have much larger proportions of deserts or jungles.

The United States is also one of the five largest countries in the world by population. The others include China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. Brazil and Russia are sixth and seventh. It is for these reasons, that the "BRIC" countries are now important, as potential challengers to the U.S.

Of these, only China can beat the U.S. in both population and land area (India also has a respectable, but not matching land area). For now, at least, the quality of the U.S. population is better; richer, better educated, more entrepreneurial, etc. America is an immigrant country that has (generally) attracted the "best and brightest" from abroad. China and Russia, have been "closed" countries that have repelled foreign ideas, putting them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the U.S. Brazil seems like a smaller version of "America," and India, an English-speaking country, has more (but poorer) people on a smaller land area.

The world is now moving toward a "convergence." Given its natural advantages, America will long be at least a "contender." It's not clear how long we'll remain number one.

  • What do you mean when you say that «The world is now moving toward a "convergence."»? Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 7:47
  • Land area and agriculture do not matter much when it comes to GDP per capita. Holland and Japan are examples of countries with small area per person, while also having a high GDP per capita.
    – David
    Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 9:53
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    @VitalijZadneprovskij: The internet and other forms of communication is making formerly "proprietary" technologies generally available, thereby lessening the advantages formerly enjoyed by the U.S. (and Europe) over Russia, China, India, and the developing worold.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 13:37
  • @David: GDP per capita doesn't make for world power. "Holland" (the Netherlands actually) is not currently a world power. Japan IS a world power, with an ABSOLUTE GDP that is third behind the U.S. and China (and a close third behind China). But that's true in spite of, not because of, Japan's small land area. Japan fought World War II (and World War I) to INCREASE its land area.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 19:48
  • @TomAu I would say that the power of an economy is best measured by GDP. To achieve a high GDP, it certainly helps to have a high GDP per capita. This is the reason why the US economy is roughly double the size of the Chinese. Holland is not a world economic power because it has too few people. Japan is, because it has both high GDP per capita and many people. I am not saying that a small land area causes wealth, I am saying that it does not affect wealth significantly. Japanese policies during the wars were obviously not sound, and should not be used as proof of anything.
    – David
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 13:46

At the end of World War II not only the British and French colonial empires ended, but also France and Britain were dependent and had a huge economical debt towards USA.

During the decades that followed, the United States offered good opportunities to skilled professionals in all the world, and also to not skilled ones. That includes researchers, engineers, doctors, and many other professions that did not have the possibility to emerge in their own country.

Even in 2005 it had the highest immigrant population.

US also has the highest military spending, fact that allows to influence the politics of other countries from which they buy raw materials. This made many people use the term American Empire.

Later it was the center of the transformation of economy due to new informatic technologies, internet and e-commerce.

In the latest decades US companies started outsourcing industrial production to China and services, like call centres and computer software development, to India.


The USA is the world's strongest country because of its military force.

And it is the most advanced military force because it has the most advanced fundamental science.

And it has the most advanced fundamental science because America inherited it from Germany which had been devastated.

Germany was the most advanced nation since about 800 when Holy Roman Empire was formed.

And in 1930s most German scientists just moved to the USA, similarly to how Roman scientists moved to Germany in 9th century.

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    Sources please! Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 16:33
  • Since many of the scientists who moved to the US were mainly Jews who feared persecution under the Nazi party, was there a similar situation with the Romans?
    – MichaelF
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 16:40
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    Yep, but the bit about the 9th century should have a cite (not common knowledge you can rely on the voters already knowing). Most advanced fundamental science leading to most advanced military also needs a cite, especially since fundamental science is generally shared among nations, while practical R&D applications of science is the stuff that gets kept secret and leads to military advances. Also the claim that the HRE was the most scientifically-advanced nation for 1000 years needs a pretty convincing cite, considering muslim science and the "dark" ages then. Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 16:51
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    @Anixx I know about the movement after WWII but you specifically state in your answer that in the 1930's there was movement to the US which is before the war. I was noting why and questioning the Roman citation. That's good information you should add to the answer, I've never seen the connection between Carolus and the HRE, some citations would be interesting to review.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 17:30
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    @Anixx, the most advanced nation since 800 when the HRE was founded? To the best of my knowledge, China should hold that title from about 1600 BCE (Shang) to 1500 (Qing) as it was the cradle of innovation, one of the great Empires, and very advanced in that time period. I would also like to point out that the HRE was not a united empire, and that Germany was not formed in 800 CE, but in 1871.
    – Russell
    Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 6:06