The defenders of capitalism should have more faith – response by Ha-Joon Chang and me to critics of the Robin Hood Tax

October 19, 2011

Small farms can be beautiful – how farmers’ markets changed attitudes and policies in Colombia

October 19, 2011

The world’s top 100 economies: 53 countries, 34 cities and 13 corporations

October 19, 2011
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This is from the World Bank, which increasingly seems to be adopting the functions (or at least the methods) of campaigning NGOs and thinktanks. Data are for 2009, in purchasing power parity terms.100 top economies Countries are in black, cities in green, companies in brown. Largest countries are the US and China (with India at number 4); biggest cities are Tokyo and New York, with notable presence of Latin American megacities (Mexico, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires); top companies are Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil (oil still trumps tech, sorry Google).

And yes, of course there’s no obvious reason to equate a company’s turnover with a country’s GDP, but it’s still an interesting indicator of scale. [h/t John Magrath]

Update: Fascinating comment from Peter Chowla, pointing out that a better comparison is between government tax revenue and corporate revenue, and when he crunched the numbers (he didn’t include cities), he got only 29 countries in the top 100 – the rest were corporates. Anyone fancy updating Peter’s numbers (he did this back in 2004/5)?


  1. This isn’t incredibly intuitive, especially since city GDPs will also be aggregated in country GDPs and corporation profits are being aggregated (likely across) different countries. It’s a bit like me having a chart with a population breakdown that looks like:

    Airplane pilots

    Duncan: I agree Matt (apart from your use of the word ‘intuitive’ – don’t you mean something like ‘rigorous’?) Strictly speaking, this does have apples and pears, and some double counting, but its purpose is to talk about the scale of things rather than precise numbers, and I think it works for that.

  2. Yes, the whole GDP to revenues thing is very misguided – as has been pointed out by a number of academics (see De Grauwe, Paul and Filip Camerman, `How Big are the Big Multinational Companies?`, 2002).

    I always have argued (and wrote a paper on, see here: that we should be comparing relevant entities, and at the national level that is a government. The government’s resources are much more limited than GDP, namely to the taxation it can take from its citizens. Theory has long pointed to the fact that there is a limit to what a government can extract from its national economy, based on the fact that more oppressive taxation reduces the incentives for citizens to invest in productive activities.

    So my paper ( compared governement revenue with corpoate revenue to get an idea on their ability to compete with each other. Data is very old at this point and I have lost track of the nice table I made… I think the World Bank should do the same sort of exercise. But here were the conclusions from 2005 (using 2000 data):

    The results, as seen in Table 1, are striking, with only 29 countries figuring in the list of the top 100 international entities in terms of revenue. The G7 countries and Brazil managed to outpace all corporate actors, but firms outnumber sovereigns 29 to 21 in the top 50. Even some OECD countries, such as the Greece and Ireland, did not rank in the top 100, while other new OECD members such as Hungary and the Czech Republic have lower revenues than the top 200 corporations. Only four developing countries made into the top 200, those being the ones with the largest populations (China, India, Indonesia and South Africa); while a handful of middle-income countries – Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Iran, Poland, Turkey, Israel, Russia and Argentina – ranked within the top 200. Only 33 nations placed in the top 200 entities in the world in terms of revenue.

    Duncan: Really interesting Peter, thanks. Hadn’t thought of the comparison of tax and business revenue. v nice

  3. I agree with Matt that the double counting makes this a bit….er…unrigorous, to say the least. What is the point of knowing ‘the scale of things’ if what you’re comparing isn’t the same ‘thing’.

    To expand Matt’s analogy – if we know there are a lot of Americans and a lot of airline pilots in the world, that doesn’t actually tell us anything useful. The interesting bit is to know how many airline pilots there are in the USA, the UK and Denmark, say, and then to use that information to decide which airline to fly with.

    Duncan: Well whether it’s rigorous or not depends on what its intended use is, surely? You and Matt seem to assume that the point of these kinds of stats is to enable people to take decisions on policies or allocating $, which it clearly isn’t. The point is to help people who aren’t necessarily policy wonks see things differently and say things like
    – ‘wow, companies are so big they are on the scale of major political players – no wonder they are successful lobbyists and need to be closely watched and/or regulated’
    – look how much this player has grown over time relative to that player – what are the implications of such shifts in terms of balance of power? (for which we wd need to have a way of comparing this table with earlier periods, clearly)
    OK, take aim…….

  4. Intuition is an individual property but thought provoking it surely is.

    Another table which would make you think would be aid $ compared to other $ size/reach. All the more constructed of course.

    Ps. I doubt that there’re more than 5,5 million airplane pilots in the world. 😉

  5. While I find this a most interesting table, it is one from which I am unable to deduce much except that It gives me numbers, some of them very large. The numbers tell me that Shell & Wal-Mart have greater purchasing power than Switzerland and Austria, which I suppose is interesting.

    It seems to me that this might be one of those Size Matters thingys. I took a look at the ratio of employees/ppp and citizens/ppp and didn’t conclude anything useful either.

    I wonder if the ppp of the US, for example includes Wal-Mart…so do the figures for Wal-Mart count twice? and of the Fortune 500, Exxon, Wal-Mart & Chevron are US; Toyota Motors & Japan Post Holdings are Japanese, Sinopec, State Grid & China National Petroleum are Chinese, and BP is the UK.

    Would this information skew the figures?

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