The following is a guest post…
We all make judgements, every single day of our lives. And often without realising it, too. It’s in our very nature, our DNA . Making the right call was often a matter of life and death for our ancient, cave-dwelling ancestors. Thank goodness, at least most of the time, the consequences of poor judgement are not so stark or life threatening today.
Take countries, for example. The United States versus Qatar. Instantly we conjure up a mental image, a side-by-side comparison, provided our knowledge of geography is up to par of course. Everyone knows where the United States is. And how huge it is. But Qatar? Think Persian Gulf. Think Saudi Arabia to the south and west. Think tiny little country, 100 miles north to south. Now you’ve got it.
You can’t compare the two; one has a massive landmass; the other is minuscule in size. Seems a reasonably fair judgement to make. What about population size? One is more than 150 times the size of the other. And economic muscle? Gross domestic product (GDP). A figure that’s bandied about all over the place. The United States $15 trillion in 2011. Qatar $173 billion in the same year. Can’t compare the two. Right? Yes, but Qatar is the richest country in the world!
How come? It’s like everything in life. We make a judgement on a whole variety of factors, even crazy things like the number of banks in Qatar, or the number of McDonald’s restaurants in the US – estimated at around 13,000, believe it or not! A country that’s larger than another must somehow be more powerful, more populous, more wealthier, and therefore ‘better’ than the other. Sometimes a judgement based on such criteria is correct. Other times not.
In economic terms, comparing countries by GDP – the total value of goods and services produced by all sectors of an economy – as a measure is a bit like using a hammer to crack a nut. It tends to be a rather crude way of measuring a nation’s economic health. Having said that, the figure is used all the time. Perhaps the truer benchmark of a nation’s economic well-being is GDP per capita. Divide a country’s GDP by it’s population and you’ve got GDP per capita.
Figures for 2011 put the GDP per capita of the United States at £49,000. The figure for Qatar is $104,300, more than double. On that measure, Qatar is far richer than the United States. In fact, the CIA’s World Factbook puts Qatar right at the top of the GDP per capita league table, making it the richest country on the planet. The United States is 11th in the table; United Kingdom 32nd with $36,500 GDP per capita; China 122nd with $8,400; Egypt 137th with $6,500. Zimbabwe and the Congo are second from bottom and bottom, with GDP per capita of $500 and $300 respectively.
Eye-opening figures. But let’s take a look at the unemployment rate, surely another good indicator of the economic health of a nation. In second place in the unemployment league table, at less than 1%, is – you’ve guessed it – Qatar. Only the tiny principality of Monaco is ahead of it at 0% unemployment, although that figure refers back to 2005.
In the same table, again courtesy of the CIA’s World Factbook, the United States is 103rd (9%) by comparison. The United Kingdom is 97th (8.1%); China 68th (6.5%); Egypt 127th (12%); and bottom, poor old Zimbabwe (95%). So which country is the richer, the United States or Qatar? Depends how you measure it. And that’s a judgement, too.