- On these maps, each hexagon represents one thousandth of the world economy.
- This makes it easier to compare the GDP of regions and nations around the world.
- There are versions for nominal GDP and GDP adjusted for purchasing power.
Shanghai skyline at night. According to the GDP (PPP) map, China is the world’s largest economy. But this oft-cited statistic says more about the problems of PPP as a yardstick than the economic importance of China per se.Credit: Adi Constantine, CC0 1.0
If you want to rank the regions and countries of the world, area and population are just rough predictors of their importance. A better criterion is the GDP, or gross domestic product, defined as the economic value produced in a given region or country over a year.
Who is hot and who is not
And these two cards are perhaps the best instruments for showing who’s hot and who isn’t, economically speaking. They are in fact cartograms, which means that they abandon geographic precision to represent values from another set of data, in this case GDP: the more a region or country is represented relative to its actual size, the higher its GDP, and vice versa.
So far so familiar. What is unique about these cards is the way it is done. Both are made up of hexagons, exactly 1,000 each. And each of these hexagons represents 0.1% of global GDP. This makes it possible to assess and compare in a fascinating way the economic weight of various regions and countries around the world.
Did we say easy? Scratch that off. GDP comes in two main forms: nominal and adjusted PPP, with each map showing one.
Nominal GDP does not take into account differences in living standards. It simply converts the local GDP values to US dollars based on the exchange rates. GDP corrected by purchasing power parity (PPP) takes into account the standard of living. $ 100 buys more things in poor countries than in rich countries. If you get more for your money in country A, its PPP adjusted GDP will be relatively higher than in country B.
Nominal GDP is a good way to compare the gross economic size of various countries and regions, while GDP (PPP) is an attempt to measure the relative standards of living between countries and regions. But it is also only an approximation, since it does not measure the distribution of personal income. For this we have the Gini index, which measures the relative (in) equality of income distribution.
In other words, PPP sees the high cost of living in mature markets as an economic disadvantage, while leaving a little more room for low-cost savings elsewhere. Think of it as the peter screening GDP models.
Who is number one: the United States or China?
The economy of the world, divided into a thousand hexagons.Credit: BerryBlue_BlueBerry, reproduced with kind permission
The difference is important, however, as the versions produce very different results. Most striking: on the nominal GDP map, the United States remains the world’s largest economy. But on the PPP-adjusted GDP map, China ranks first. However, it is wrong to assume on this basis that China is the world’s largest economy.
As this article explains in detail, PPP-adjusted GDP is not a good benchmark for comparing the size of economies – nominal GDP is the obvious measure. GDP (PPP) is an attempt to compare standards of living; but even in this regard, it has its limits. For example, $ 100 might buy you more in country B, but you might not be able to buy the things you can get in country A.
Both maps, shown below, are based on IMF data released in the first quarter of 2021. For the sake of brevity, we’ll take a closer look at the nominal GDP map and leave the comparisons with the PPP map to you.
For the nominal card, global GDP is just over US $ 93.86 trillion. This means that each of the hexes represents approximately 93.86 billion US dollars.
The global overview clearly shows which three regions are the world’s economic powers. Despite the rise of East Asia (265 hexes), North America (282) is still number one, with Europe (250) just third. In total, this represents only three hexagons of less than 80% of world GDP. The remaining fifth of the world economy is distributed – quite a bit, by necessity – between Southeast Asia and Oceania (56), South Asia (41), the Middle East (38), South America (32), Africa (27), and North and Central Asia (9).
California über alles
California’s economy is larger than that of all of South America or Africa.Credit: BerryBlue_BlueBerry, reproduced with kind permission
Thanks to the hexagons, the maps become more interesting as you zoom in on them.
In North America, the United States (242) eclipses Canada (20) and Mexico (13); and in the United States, California (37) surpasses not only all other states, but also most other countries – and some continents – in the world. To be fair, Texas (21), New York (20), Florida (13) and Illinois (10) also do better than many individual nations.
Interestingly, states that look alike on a “regular” map are far from each other on this one. Missouri is four hexagons but Nebraska only one. Alabama has three, but Mississippi only has one.
The granularity of the map goes beyond the state level, showing (in red) the economic weight of certain metropolitan statistical areas (MSA), within or across state borders. That of New York City-Newark-Jersey City is 20 hexagons, or 2% of world GDP. The Greater Toronto Area is made up of five hexagons, a quarter of all of Canada. And Greater Mexico is made up of three hexagons. It’s the same as the whole state of Oregon.
By comparison, South America (32) and Africa (27) are little fry on the global GDP map. But each little pond has its own big fish. In the first, it is Brazil (16), in particular the state of São Paulo (5), which alone is larger than any other country in South America. In Africa, there is a regional leader each in the north, center and south: Egypt (4), Nigeria (5) and South Africa (3), respectively.
Economically, Italy is bigger than Russia
The European “Big Five” represent three-fifths of the continent’s GDP. The Asian part of the former Soviet Union is an economic ulterior motive.Credit: BerryBlue_BlueBerry, reproduced with kind permission
Europe is incredibly diverse, so it is useful to focus on the “big five” economies: Germany (46), UK (33), France (31), Italy (22) and Spain (16). They represent three fifths of European GDP.
Each of these five has one or more regional economic drivers. In Germany, it is the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and in France, it is Île de France (both 10). In the United Kingdom, it’s obviously London (8), in Italy Lombardy (5), and in Spain, it’s a photo-finish between Madrid and Catalonia (both 3).
The European economies are interesting for the small countries which greatly exceed their geographic and / or demographic weight, such as the Netherlands (11) and Switzerland (9).
Slide over to Eastern Europe and things get pretty mono-hexagonal. Poland (7) stands out positively and Russia (18) negatively. The former superpower, spread over two continents, has a smaller economy than Italy’s. Three individual German states have a GDP greater than that of the Moscow metropolitan region (5), the seat and most of the economic powerhouse of Russia.
China, the biggest fish in a big pond
Australia’s and South Korea’s GDPs are roughly equal and each is about a third of Japan’s. But even combined, these three elements barely represent half of China’s economic weight.Credit: BerryBlue_BlueBerry, reproduced with kind permission
In the 1980s, the United States was wary of the rise of Japan on the world stage. But as this map shows, that fear was misguided – or rather, slightly misdirected. China (177) now dominates the region economically, even overshadowing the land of the Rising Sun (57). South Korea (19) and Taiwan (8) look a lot bigger than on a “normal” map, but it’s clear who rules here.
It is interesting to note that Chinese hubs are mainly, but not exclusively, coastal. Yes, there are Guangdong (19), Jiangsu (18) and Shandong (13), as well as a few other provinces with access to the sea. But the interior provinces of Henan (10), Sichuan (9) and of Hubei (8) are as economically important as any mid-sized European country. Tibet (1) and Xinjiang (2), huge on the “normal” map, are almost invisible here.
In the ASEAN countries (36), Thailand (6), Singapore (4) and the Indonesian island of Java (7) stand out. Economically, Oceania is practically synonymous with Australia (17) – sorry, New Zealand (3).
As for South Asia and the Middle East, India (32) is clearly the dominant player, surpassing its close neighbors Bangladesh (4) and Pakistan (3), as well as more distant countries such as ‘Saudi Arabia (9), Turkey (8), and Iranian (7). But this is a cold comfort for a country that sees itself as a challenger to Chinese domination.
The world map of PPP-adjusted GDP is slightly different from that of nominal GDP. China is the No.1 country and East Asia the No.1 region.Credit: BerryBlue_BlueBerry, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Cards # 1089
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