In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (April 2013, Volume 4, Issue 1) Danny Dorling and I looked at the global geography of wealth. The map that I created for this feature displays data published by Forbes Magazine in spring 2012 (updated annualy). For 2012 Forbes counted 1153 billionaires across the globe (this figure includes families, but excludes fortunes dispersed across large families where the average wealth per person is below a billion). The total wealth of the billionaires was US$3.7 trillion – as great as the annual gross domestic product of Germany. Top of this league table is the US with 424 billionaires (or billionaire families), followed by Russia (96) and China (95). The following cartogram animation shows, how the distribution of billionaires and the distribution of their total wealth compares. Although there are only small changes between the two maps, it is quite apparent that the wealthiest in the wealthier parts of the world accumulate slightly higher shares of wealth than those living in the emerging economies such as China (though this may be some of the less worrying inequalities that exist globally):
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Looking at similar data collected by WealthInsight (extracts published in the Guardian newspaper) – which published more detailed statistics on the geographic distribution of 521 of the wealthiest billionaires – we can see that the plutocrats’ global city of choice is Moscow with 78 billionaire residents, followed by New York City (58), Hong Kong (40), and London (39). The most attractive place for foreign wealth appears to be the United Kingdom with 15 different nationalities represented in the richest of the rich there. This tops even Switzerland (14 nationalities) and the United States (9).
Much of the wealth of billionaires is held offshore and their wealth is the tip of an iceberg of hard-to-tax personal assets. In a recent Tax Justice Network report (pdf), James Henry estimated the overall global offshore financial assets held by the world’s richest to be between US$21 trillion and US$32 trillion (out of the total global wealth, estimated at US$231 trillion). Nearly half of these offshore assets are owned by the world’s richest 91,000, just 0.001% of the global population.
The distribution of this wealth is a story of extreme inequality. For each billionaire there are millions of people who can only ever dream of such wealth – the ratio is only slightly smaller in the richest countries of the world: in the USA one billionaire can be found for every 740,000 people, while in India one billionaire is found amongst every 26 million people.
Over time the inequalities in the distribution of global wealth have become ever more polarised. According to a 2006 study by the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER), half of all global household wealth was owned by the richest 2% of adults. The poorer half of the world’s population owned just 1 per cent of the global wealth between all of them. Their distribution is the reverse image of the wealth maps shown here.
But it is not only wealth inequality that becomes very apparent in these numbers. The gender gap is large among the rich: Of the countries with more than 10 billionaires, Sweden is the most equal. But even here only 27% of billionaires are female, followed by Germany (20%) and Brazil (19%). Russia, home to the second largest number of billionaires, only has one woman in the ranking, and the USA is not much better with only 10% of the country’s billionaires female. 37 of the 59 countries shown here have no female billionaires at all.
World military spending for 2011 is estimated to be over $1.7 trillion at current prices, and has come to a relative stagnation after it has been steadily rising in recent years. As summarised on the Global Issues website, “the 15 countries with the highest spending account for over 81% of the total; The USA is responsible for 41 per cent of the world total, distantly followed by the China (8.2% of world share), Russia (4.1%), UK and France (both 3.6%).” The data cited here comes from the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute who use publicly available data sources for its reports. Military expenditure is defined as “all current and capital expenditure on: (a) the armed forces, including peacekeeping forces; (b) defence ministries and other government agencies engaged in defence projects; (c) paramilitary forces, when judged to be trained and equipped for military operations; and (d) military space activities. Such expenditures should include: (a) military and civil personnel, including retirement pensions of military personnel and social services for personnel; (b) operations and maintenance; (c) procurement; (d) military research and development; and (e) military aid (in the military expenditure of the donor country). Civil defence and current expenditures on previous military activities, such as veterans’ benefits, demobilization, conversion and weapon destruction are excluded.”
SIPRI’s long term observations show how the decrease in military spending following the end of the cold war in the 1990s slowed down at the turn of the century, and has significantly been rising again over the last 10 years – now exceeding the levels of the 1980. A major impact on these figures has the revival of military spending in North America, as the regional breakdown of the data shows. Compared to that, the rise of Asia appears much less significant than one would expect, although the region is clearly gaining importance (see an interactive graphic of the data on the Guardian datablog).
The following cartogram uses the latest available figures of military expenditure from the 2012 update of the database, completed by own estimates for the missing countries. It shows the estimate absolute expenditure in current (2011) US$ for the year 2011:
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My research on gridded cartograms has its roots in the works of the Worldmapper project, which was originally released in 2006/07 and extended in the following years. While the first phase of the Worldmapper project has visually describes the world, mapping the national contours of hundreds of variables, it did so only in one way and a way easily open to criticism despite its novelty and wide scope. To tackle this, I conducted further research to help address these potential criticisms, to work on moving the resource beyond its simple descriptive form. This included a look at more theoretical issues of how world resources, flows and shares are understood, particularly visually understood – and how this can be improved.
The gridded cartograms are one of the key results of this second phase of the Worldmapper project to advance and improve the capabilities of the Worldmapper maps. So far we integrated gridded cartograms on the Worldmapper website only in form of the World Population Atlas that shows an extensive collection of gridded country cartograms. These are the first ever made compilation of maps showing population distributions in cartogram form at that level of detail for every country of the world, but there is more to the underlying technique than this.
Following the release of these first maps using a gridded cartogram approach, I have made progress not only in enhancing the accuracy and quality of these country-level maps, but also in advancing the technique to a stage where gridded cartograms can be utilised as an alternative map projection (explained and discussed in full detail in my PhD thesis). Some examples are shown on this website: One example for the new capabilities at country level is the map of population changes in Germany. At global level the example of agricultural spaces presented at last year’s Annual Meeting of the Society of Cartographers demonstrates their applicability not only for population-related issues, but beyond that for other quantitative dimensions with a new level of detail, but also new capabilities of showing additional layers of information that the original Worldmapper approach was not capable of achieving.
There sometimes is a certain confusion about the differences between the maps drawn in the first stage of the Worldmapper project (and that we carry on producing as well), and the new gridded cartograms. The following map series shows the differences by using the Worldmapper colour scheme applied to the different map types (for full clarity, the map series starts off with a conventional map projection):
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A question often asked about Worldmapper is in regard to our choice of colours for the different regions and countries. On the website we briefly explain that the colours used on the maps group the territories into 12 geographical regions, and allow for an easier visual comparison between the maps than would otherwise be possible. The shading of each territory within a region is consistent throughout all of the maps.” But there is a little bit more to the colours which tell a story about the unequal fortunes of the world which follow a general pattern along the major regions.
The colours of the world’s regions are chosen very consciously, and have a deeper sense behind their distribution. We split the world into twelve contiguous geographical regions of population groups, with every region being roughly symmetrically balanced and having at least a population of one hundred million people. This is how the world’s population is distributed:
2012 has been a quite busy year on this website with the number of annual visitors breaking the 100,000 mark for the first time. The analytics tool Piwik which I use for monitoring my website counted precisely 113,359 visits in 2012, up from almost 90,000 the year before. So thanks everyone for visiting either once (as 85,000 people did) or as one of the 16,800 more regular visitors. This asks for a new map that’s showing, where each of the counted visits came from last year: 176 individual countries were counted, as well as a larger number of unknown origins (and of course all those who prefer blocking any analytics tool, they do not appear in any of these statistics). Despite such a large diversity of visits from around the world, the majority comes from places that one may expect, given certain characteristics of this website (language, location, etc.), and also given the accessibility of the internet, which until today remains a very unequal story, even if availability of the online world slowly finds its way to the less privileged places on this planet. But I digress, so here is the map of all visits to viewsoftheworld.net in 2012:
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Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved. (IFOAM 2009)
The practice of organic farming is not only relevant for soothing the bad conscience of wealthier societies, but it plays an important role in preserving croplands from degradation that is often caused by conventional intensive methods of farming. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognised this need and set up the Organic Agriculture Programme. Its objective is “to enhance food security, rural development,sustainable livelihoods and environmental integrity by building capacities of member countries in organic production, processing, certification and marketing“. With a still growing world population and the rising demand for food, more sensible (and thus sustainable) ways of agriculture are needed more than ever to stop damage to the world’s arable lands.
In a joint paper published last year in the European Journal of Social Sciences (Vol. 24, Issue 3) John Paull and I presented a new world map of organic agriculture that presents countries as proportional in size to their share of the total of world organic hectares (data sources are described in the paper, reference see below):
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