So I compiled a bunch of “top ten” numbers in the attached file from a variety of sources on the internet (The link above is an excel file with that compilation). Yes this is what I do on a Friday night when I have a theory or curiosity that I want to affirm or dispel. My theory was if you analyze things like
- arable land
- permanent crops
- oil usage
- oil production
- available fresh water
- religious affiliation
that you might see some trend that the news doesn’t really do justice to. I used land, oil, water and population as proxies for economic churn. You need food, fuel and people if you want to make things. Religion and language are my proxy for cultural difference that tend to be how disagreements degenerate into hostilities.
Some things that this particular slice of data seemed to indicated to me:
- The middle east situation is less about oil now as it is about the power struggle between Sunni and Shia aligned people. A lot of oil is made in the middle east, but all the lead exporters of oil aren’t necessarily in the middle east.
- Russia seeming to have taken sides with what appears to be the Shia bloc seems rational; it has its own Sunni insurgency. That Sunni insurgency may or may not be Al Qaeda, but it probably is getting money from Al Qaeda or some sources that sympathetic to their cause. Also, it may seem at the surface that Putin poking the US in the eye, but I think it more nuanced than that – even though I can’t prove it.
- Take a historical look at where Shia Islam is core and to where it emanates. If you start in Iran and follow the historical Moghul empire east into Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and modern Iran’s 20/21st century money west (Syria, Hezbollah etcetera) you see this historical empire crashing into a turmoiled Sunni empire to its west. This is the same historical force that fought the Greeks and later were conquered by Alexander. Their lineage includes Parthian Empire that pressured Rome. Their predecessor was the Persian empire that pressured the Ottoman Empire from the Southeast. Religion gets intertwined with a historical feeling of empire that was once called Persia. That is what Iran is today. That’s why they assert themselves.
- Amazingly enough, both Turkey and Israel get a disproportionate attention in our US media considering that the only come up infrequently in any of the top 10 categories I selected. The only top ten things from the data I used about either are the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict and Turkey’s large (and obvious) populations of Sunni and Shia. Not economic size, debt, land, oil, even language seem top 10. Israel gets a relatively small amount in foreign aid overall in the world, contrary to the way it is portrayed in our news. Turkey is a member of NATO and the second largest armed force in that Alliance, however, I stayed away from military assessments as I’m not sure yet if size of the military is or is not symptomatic of other factors.
- The United States is still disproportionately most of the world economy. It has near the top arable land, water supply, oil production, size of economy, debt, foreign-owned assets (meaning money circulating through the united states), and disbursed the most foreign aid.
- China’s numbers make no coherent picture overall. It’s economy is half the size of the US, it has 4 times as many people, owns more of the world’s debt and gold than other countries but, as yet is not consuming as much oil as the US and Europe. It has one of the largest supplies of permanent crops and arable land, but it has no where near the amount of water that it would need to support the economy and population growth. Oddly, I hadn’t anticipated this, it has a huge protestant population (as compared to other countries, not by overall % of the population).
- Lacking any other information, India seems like a powder keg with large populations of both Sunni and Shia muslims (larger than many countries) but drawfed by the Hindu population. It has had flare ups before, but seems oddly stable. It is also an economic enigma – somewhat underdeveloped compared to its potential in raw resources and obvious human resources .
- I was interested in how Brazil seemed to come out so high in so many categories, it’s something our newscasters ought to dig into more often than the obvious and easily amusing stories about Rio. They are huge.
- I seem to remember some scientist/researcher ( I found something akin to it here, I thought it was EO Wilson, but I am most probably wrong) that tried to make the point that countries that were primarily Catholic or have large Catholic populations were not as well to do as countries with mostly Protestant populations. If you take the US out of the numbers, I think that my data shows there doesn’t seem to be a difference at all near the top of the lists. I don’t think that religious affiliation has much to do with economic power; historical situations seem to be more a factor.
- Finally, depending on the factor, a lot of African Nations appear in the top 10s I selected. Maybe the some of the larger countries on that Continent are getting to the point of being the next Brazil in the next 25 years. Dunno.
So these aren’t completely scientific choices of a dataset, it was a set of variables that seem to be related to what is presented to us in the news. From a statistical point of view, none of the data I gathered would probably pass a statistical significance test. I encourage you to disagree and present other data and other variables, or even point out different conclusions from the same data I looked up. This was just a mental exercise on a Friday night and should not be considered hard research (or that the writer thinks he has done hard research). Love to read what you think.
(Where did I get the data? IMF site, wikipedia, us.gov sites, UN data et cetera. it was a hodgepodge and not all of it was as of Dec31 2013…some of the data was at best 2 years old)