Tuesday, November 15, 2011
If I were to have to recommend a quick and dirty way to gain an understanding of geopolitics over a few days, I would probably recommend the following:
1) read through as much of the Economist as possible,
2) play around with numbers using Wolfram Alpha.
The Economist with its quick and easy snippets of geopolitical knowledge is an easy recommendation to make, and Wolfram Alpha complements this with easy demonstrations of which countries have more people, larger economies, more or less growing economies, and so on...but what really makes it worth fiddling around with is that it provides these statistics over a few decades, not just the past year. Let's say you've just read an article about China and North Korea and are wondering whether China really does want to play a moderating role in the region. Let's see how the GDP of the two countries compares over time:
Until the 1990s North Korea held steady at 1/25th of China (and about 1/60th the population), but now this has increased over tenfold: North Korea is now at about a pitiful 1/350th. North Korea now provides China little else but a buffer zone in between the Chinese border and US troops; as a market, it is nearly nonexistent.
China divided by South Korea for comparison:
Population of China / population of India:
Population of the US / population of Pakistan:
GDP of the US / GDP of China:
GDP of the US / GDP of (Canada + Mexico) - i.e. the US compared to the rest of North America:
Now let's go to Europe and do a quick comparison of the German vs. French economic zone. The two languages overlap in some countries, but for a quick comparison let's assume that Belgium = French and Switzerland = German. The French-speaking part of Switzerland kind of makes up for the rest of Belgium and Liechtenstein and north Italy etc. make up for the non-German part of Switzerland. So here is the GDP of (Germany + Austria + Switzerland) / (France + Belgium):
GDP per capita in the US / Russia is particularly interesting. This graph alone shows why Russia has been more confident as a country over the past few years than since a few decades before.
By the way, the Nord Stream pipeline opened this week.
Next is the GDP of booming Azerbaijan divided by Armenia:
This is in comparative terms, of course; in comparison with other countries Armenia's economy is not shrinking. Here it is compared to Turkey for example.
Or compared to the United States, where the US goes from about 6000 times larger to 1225 times.
Finally, the GDP of Israel / GDP of Iran.
Wolfram Alpha here is a bit like Wikipedia (except for the most detailed articles): a good source to go to for a quick overview or hasty comparison, and after that if your interest is piqued you will want to proceed to something more detailed and well prepared.