Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I have a copy of the Economist's 2002 World in Figures collection of statistics. It's fascinating. I know it's a little obsolete, but I imagine that the relative order among the various countries in the following list is accurate. It's the fifty largest national economies in the world, in terms of GDP, in billions of dollars.

The United States, of course, is number one with $9.15 trillion per year in GDP, a staggering amount of wealth. Japan is a solid number two with $4.35 trillion, more than double Germany at number three and $2.11 trillion. The UK is fourth at $1.44 trillion and France has $1.43 trillion in fifth, so they're effectively tied. Italy is sixth with $1.17 trillion. These are all standard Western-style, reasonably liberal democratic states, six of the Group of Seven.

The first non-democratic state on the list is China at number seven, with $.98 trillion, and Brazil is a surprising number eight at $.75 trillion. This is a place to be reckoned with if it can ever get a decent government. I guess Lula isn't nearly as bad as he might be. If you can speak Spanish or some other Romance language, it might be very much worth your while to invest a year or two of study and pick up Portuguese. Canada is ninth with an excellent $.63 trillion for such a small population, and then, in tenth place (hurray!) is Spain with $.60 trillion. We're number ten! We're number ten! That's actually pretty damn good, beaten out by only the G-7, China, and Brazil. I think we've got a lot of room to improve, too. Not even Zap is going to be able to completely screw up the Second Spanish Renaissance.

Mexico is another surprising number eleven--these with .49 trillion, and India is next at $.45 trillion. South Korea is a very good thirteenth at $.41 trillion and then Australia punches above its weight at fourteenth with .40 trillion. Who was missing up till now? Right, Russia, at number fifteen with $.40 trillion. Pathetic. All those years of misrule. What a tragedy. They're living off exporting raw minerals, mostly energy and metals. They have to import food, for Chrissake. It's their second-biggest import. And they've got an incredibly high seven percent of their people working in agriculture.

Now we're starting to see comparatively minor differences between the countries on the list. Effectively, the five previous countries fall into a mid-sized group.

Now we start getting small, wealthy countries, the Netherlands $.39 trillion and sixteenth place and Taiwan at $.28 trillion in 17th. Eighteenth place is Argentina, which should be as rich as Canada, at a weak $.28 million. Nineteenth is the Swiss, at $.26 billion, and 20th is Belgium. Also above $.20 trillion are No. 21 Sweden and No. 22 Austria.

Now we get the first Muslim country on the list--Turkey with $.18 trillion in 23rd place. Also above $.15 trillion are No. 24 Denmark (with only like five million people), No. 25 Hong Kong (they're just an island), No. 26 Poland, the first ex-Soviet satellite on the list, and tiny No. 27 Norway, the first of our countries (barring Russia and, sort of, Canada and Mexico) whose economy is heavily dependent on exporting energy.

Above $.10 trillion per year are No. 28 Indonesia and No. 29 Saudi Arabia (two big, poorly-managed oil producers), No. 30 South Africa, our first African country, and then No. 31 Finland and No. 32 Greece. Then come growing No. 33 Thailand, Portugal at a respectable No. 34, and then two more poorly-managed oil-producers, Iran and Venezuela. The last in this group is No. 37 Israel, which ought to dispose of the myth that the Jews control everything.

Now we're at $.10 trillion, which is of course $100 billion per year in GDP. Going down from there we have Ireland in thirty-eighth place, Egypt at No. 39 (demonstrating just how badly off Middle Eastern countries are), No. 40 Colombia (how much of that is drugs?), No. 41 Singapore, not bad for a tiny island, No. 42 Malaysia, No. 43 Philippines, No. 44 Chile, and a terrible No. 45 Pakistan, which gets us through a group of East Asians and Latin Americans. We don't see New Zealand until No. 46, but that's because there are like eight of them divided up along forty million sheep. The Czech Republic is forty-seventh, Peru is 48th, Hungary is 49th, and Algeria, tragically, with all its energy to sell and its horrible insane political conflict, is fiftieth at $.04 trillion.

So what have we got? Wealth is concentrated in North America, Europe, and parts of East Asia. Duh, I guess. Larger Third World countries have a big enough economy to be influential. Look specifically at how insignificant oil-producers are compared to the really big countries. The United States could buy all Saudi Arabia's yearly production of everything combined and barely burp. Note that Latin America and Southeast Asia at least make the list. Only Greece from the Balkans makes the list, and only one country in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, makes it. No Jordan. No Syria. No Iraq. No Libya. Not even any Kuwait or UAE. No former Soviet states but Russia.

This is why many Muslims, particularly the Arab nationalists among them, fear, hate, and envy the West. They're weak and poor and have little influence, and they'd have none whatsoever if some Middle Eastern states didn't have the most accessible plentiful source of oil for Europe and Japan (and the whole Third World outside Latin America--note that Americans can afford $50 / barrel oil and the consequences are a few consumer complaints about allegedly expensive gas, but what are the consequences of $50 / barrel oil in, say, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Bosnia, or Benin? Ask the gentle, solidarious folk of OPEC).

To mangle a Francis Fukuyama argument, I think many Arabs and Muslims feel ashamed of their countries' weakness and poverty. They take it personally and feel diminished as both individuals and as a people by the fact that they can't beat Israel in a war or manufacture anything for themselves or give their citizens Western living standards or produce a non-corrupt, non-dictatorial government. As Fukuyama would say, their self-esteem is being violated in two ways: they feel anger, which is when you feel other people are infravaloring you (those Westerners don't respect us enough! We'll teach 'em a lesson, by Allah's beard), and they feel shame, which is when you feel that you haven't lived up to your own standards, that you have overvalued yourself (why aren't we rich and strong like them? We most certainly should be, and yet we're not. Therefore there's someone abusing and mistreating us, because this situation couldn't possibly be our own fault. Let's find that someone and kill him, by Allah's beard).

So what do you do if you're a jealous, envious nationalist, deeply hurt in your prestige and self-esteem by your society's inability to compete? Well, you either tear down the enemy (e.g. Arab allegations that the all-powerful Jews are behind all-powerful America, the huge tree that refuses to give the Muslim sapling a chance to grow) or you build yourself up (e.g. Muslim / Arab boasting about their ancient civilization, never mind the state of things now). But you, yourself, know in your heart that the building-up is phony, that you're sublimating your rage and envy at your own society into a bitter hate toward an amorphous West, and more concretely toward the United States, the largest, most visible Western phenomenon. This psychological cocktail of fear, rage, bigotry, and resentment leads to violence. At least that's what I think.

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