There has been a lot of banging on recently about Britains place and standing in the world and I heard a very interesting stat the other day that put a fair bit of it into perspective.
The recent crisis in the Eurozone was spun as David Cameron “fighting for Britain” – a battle he fought so well, that we’re facing 26-1 odds on getting our way with what is comfortably our biggest trading partner. For the sum total of fuck all benefit. (Disclaimer: I am pro-Europe, and Euro-neutral.) Also in a time of austerity, we apparently have to keep Trident as a deterrent against… well, somebody and we are busy finishing off two wars in which we get none of the benefits and all of the pain. Oh, and not to mention stuff like Libya and so on and so forth. Cameron is busy making noises about the bloody Falklands again, supporting threats against Iran as well and muttering about Scotland as it moves towards some inevitable form of independence.
(Not that he is totally to blame, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were inherited.)
This all hinges upon the idea that Britain is the same power that it was a long time ago – not post-war, our economy was fucked after WWII and we were granting all sorts of places independence – presumably to get them off the wage bill. So we’ll call it pre-WWII as the last time Britannia truly ruled the waves. Yet in the minds of many, the UK still bestrides the world stage, dispensing truth, justice and democracy to all those other countries, like the minnows of China, Germany and Russia.
There are various measures of Gross Domestic Product. The one most used is nominal GDP – the total value of all products and services produced by a nation in a given year. This table is led by the usual suspects, USA, China, Japan. Blighty is sixth, just under half of Japans GDP.
But the stat I heard was GDP by PPP per capita. The PPP bit is purchasing power parity – it takes into account things like the cost of living, inflation etc. In short, GDP is a blunt instrument, an absolute total, GDP by PPP is an attempt at forming a baseline for comparison. The “per capita” bit is GDP by PPP per person, so divided by the average population. Obviously there are some big assumptions being made, but GDP by PPP is how rich a country is, and GDP by PPP per capita is how rich a person in that country is.
So GDP by PPP has the usual suspects at the top, US, China, Japan etc. UK in 7th. GDP by PPP per capita has a different look, top is Qatar, Luxembourg, Singapore and Norway. USA is about 7th-9th, quite a few European countries hovering around 10-15 (Netherlands, Austria, Belgium).
The stat – and I fully admit to it being a outlier, but not an outrageous one – is that by the CIA World Factbook measurement of GDP by PPP per capita, the UK is in 27th place. Five places behind… Equatorial Guinea.