GDP: A few pictures are worth a book

By Megan McArdle

Check out these maps of GDP

800px-GDP_PPP_Per_Capita_Worldmap_2008_CIA_Factbook.svg.png



When you see the map, it becomes radically apparent just how firmly Britain was the root of the Industrial revolution.  With the lone exception of Japan, the darkest places on the map are either next to Britain, or former British colonies.  And aside from Saudi Arabia and Chile, all the growth seems to spread outward from those Anglosphere points of infection.  Nowhere, not even Saudi Arabia, has the income density of Western Europe and North America.

This map tells pretty much the same story, but adds a lot of new information:


sachs.png

GDP again seems to spread out from the Anglosphere infection--but only where there are ports.  Ten thousand years or so after the first humans built sailing ships for trade, the coast still matters immensely.  In fact, there are only two prosperous landlocked countries of any size:  Austria and Switzerland.  And at roughly 8 million people apiece, neither of them is what you would call "large".  It's telling that three out of four of Europe's landlocked countries are best known for their bank secrecy laws--an export that requires little effort to transport.  The energy savings of moving goods by water is so immense that a good coastline is a really good substitute for rich neighbors--think Chile.  Meanwhile, those who wonder why Africa remains mired in poverty can observe how few dark spots there are along the coasts.  In part this is horrible institutions, but it's also due to the fact that Africa has very few good sites for ports--the best ones are on the north and south of the continent.

The final map shows growth:



800px-Gdp_real_growth_rate_2007_CIA_Factbook.PNG

Growth is inversely correlated with wealth, but positively correlated with having rich neighbors.

It's a pity that geography is so rarely taught in schools above the third grade level--there's an enormous amount to learn about societies just from looking at maps.


Update  In the comments, Susan of Texas informs me that schools have started teaching geography again.  I'm glad to hear that we're finally rectifying a tragic mistake.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/07/gdp-a-few-pictures-are-worth-a-book/3905/