During the Great Recession years – identified by the United Nations as the period between 2008 and 2010 – global productivity dropped substantially. Total global gross domestic product (GDP) slid in 2008, but it actually became negative (and substantially so) in 2009, bottoming out at a -1.7% annual growth rate. This may not seem significant at first, but 2009 was the only year in the post-World War II era with a net negative global GDP.
Global GDP has rebounded tepidly, but some countries aren't participating in the recovery. Some nations, such as Greece, have obvious problems. Others, including Japan and Russia, comprise some of the most influential economies in the world.
Greece: The Never-ending Tale
Greece remains one of the most high-profile struggling economies in the world. According to U.N. data, Greece was in a period of recession (defined as multiple quarters of negative GDP growth) for an unheard-of 63 consecutive months between the third quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2014.
Greece briefly emerged from its recession in early 2014, but it was contracting again for the final quarter. The numbers entering 2015 weren't pretty: Youth unemployment was well above 50%, at least 80% of the unemployed have been without jobs for more than six months, and gross government debt exceeded 160% of GDP.
In terms of percentage of GDP lost, Greece's downturn was never as deep as the recession in the United States. However, the Greeks don't have their own printing press to conduct monetary policy with (it lacks a central bank because it is part of the EU economic alliance), and Greece's future prospects appear much bleaker.
The major hurdle to economic growth appears to be political. Greece's intractable government – buoyed by a population unwilling to accept EU bailout conditions – appears to be incapable of taking serious steps to fix the country's balance sheet or credit issues.
Japan: Decades of Stagnation
Japan's economic woes extend much further back than the 2008 global recession. The problems of Japan's hyper-expansionary monetary and fiscal policy began in the 1990s, resulting in the longest-running Keynesian experiment in the world. The result has been decades of near-zero interest rates, chronic stock and property bubbles, and a government debt that was about 240% of GDP by the end of 2014.
Between the first quarter of 2012 and the second quarter of 2015, Japan experienced negative GDP growth in six of 14 quarters. The annualized loss in the second quarter of 2014 was more than -7%. The Japanese entered 2015 with low wage growth, increasing prices for essential items, high taxes and a continuing demographic problem.
Despite the best efforts of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Bank of Japan to stimulate growth, Japan has failed to regain the kind of economic growth that characterized the nation after World War II into the 1980s. The country is a case study in ineffectual economic policy.
Russia: A Double-Dip
From 1991 until 1999, the new Russian Federation experienced a period of remarkable economic upheaval. However, the former superpower saw a rising GDP from 1999 until 2008, when crisis hit global markets.
Starting in 2008, the Russian economy saw sharp declines in GDP and stock prices. The benchmark share index, the RTS, lost nearly three-quarters of its value by January 2009. Industrial production fell by an eighth in the following 12 months, and many of the gains from the previous decade were wiped out.
Russia showed signs of recovery in 2012 and 2013, posting positive year-over-year GDP growth on the back of high energy prices and rising productivity. The good news quickly gave way to another downward spiral.
In October 2015, Forbes magazine ranked Russia as the single worst economy in the world. Suffering a recession on the back of dropping crude oil prices – a commodity comprising 68% of Russia's total exports – and a flailing fiscal and monetary policy, the future prospects for Russia are bleak at best.
Italy: A Drain on Southern Europe
Several countries in southeastern Europe struggled for much of, if not all, of the period between 2008 and 2015. Next to Greece – by far the worst economy in the region – Italy stands as the slowest gainer since the Great Recession.
The Italian economy officially pulled out of the recession and posted positive GDP data in the third quarter of 2009, but two years later, it spun into a 27-month long productivity drain. Productivity per person in Italy is lower in 2015 than in 2007.
On a real, seasonally adjusted basis, the Italian economy has lost nearly 10% of its GDP since a 2008 peak. Private consumption and investment remain low. Youth unemployment reached a record high of 44.2% in July 2015, and overall unemployment stayed above 12% from 2013 to 2015.