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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Take the Economystified Challenge!!

            First off, I want to warn you that this post will require a bit of audience participation.  We’re going to try a kind of a thought experiment, a pop quiz of sorts, and I hope that you do actually try it at home, (and when you do, please share your results with us in the comments sections!).
You will need:

1. Something to write with and/or on.  Scrap paper and pencil, or just open your computers word processor.

2. Anything that can time one minute.  The stopwatch in your phone, or the clock on your computer will do.

Take a sec to get all together, then continue reading.

…It’s cool, I’ll wait…

All set?  Ok, first, just to get your brain primed for the test, read the following:

There’s no doubt that throughout history, whenever nations have been colonized, the original, indigenous cultures tend to get “crowded out” over time.  Facets of the colonizer’s national identity gradually become part of the national identity of the colonized, and colonizing power’s presence continues to echo on for generations after they leave.
This is why still today much of Africa speaks French, contemporary India has a Parliament, Latin America is predominantly Catholic, many Australians start their days with tea and sausages, the Vietnamese use Roman letters, and Americans like me write their blog posts in English.
Nowadays it’s flat out illegal – and probably would be considered a bit uncouth – to annex another nation into ones own.  But are the national identities of the world's more marginalized countries still threatened with extinction? 
Are contemporary small nations still at risk for a sublte type of cultural colonization, one in which a “bigger” national identity gradually creeps its way into the another place's national psyche?  I can buy blue jeans and hear rock music in virtually every corner of the world.  But how many non-ethnic American teens can you find listening to rai and drinking baijiu?  Why does western pop culture end up everywhere, but so many other cultures seem to get consistently crowded off the international stage?
I’ll tell you what I think in a minute, but first I want you to try this little quiz.  Trust me, I am going somewhere with this…

Now, you ready for the quiz?  Ok.
I want you to try to answer the following question as if I am there in the room with you and asking you directly: what are the top 10 most populated countries in the world?
NO CHEATING!!  No Wikipedia or Google!  We’re only interested in what you are able to come up with.
Put one minute up on your timer, and force yourself to come up with 10.  And don’t worry if you have to start guessing!  It’s ok to just scribble down the first 10 that pop into your head.  (Ultimately, we’ll see that the ones you guess are going to be more interesting that than the ones you know…)
Ok, when I say “go,” make your list of what you think are the world’s 10 most populated countries.  Give yourself one minute and make sure you put down a full 10. 


GO!  (Don’t start reading again until you’re done).

…Finished?  Keep in mind, this list is not trivia.  This is the 10 most common national identities of our species.  If space aliens arrived tomorrow, and wanted the Cliff Notes on the contemporary human race, these would be their bullet points.  The 10 most common languages, cultures, politics, histories, and senses of aesthetics and styles on Earth.

So lets see how you did!

Under this paragraph there’s the correct list written in the same color text as the background of this page.  Hold down the left click button on your mouse, and drag and highlight through the space below to see it.

(start here)>                            

Top Ten Most Population Nations          Pop.                 % of world pop

 People's Republic of China
 United States

*Note – if you sum that up, that’s 58.44% of all human beings living in
these 10 geographical locations!               <(end here)

Give yourself one point for each country you got (and we won’t deduct points for having them out of order.  As long as you wrote them down, give yourself a point).
Be honest now, how did you do?  How many of you got Bangladesh?  Or Indonesia?  Or could find Nigeria on an unlabeled map?  See full list here. 
I’ve sprung this quiz on a few fiends of mine (I sound like fun person to hang out with, don’t I?) and I’ve only found one person who scored higher than a 7 out of 10.  Most people get about a 5.    

But don’t throw away your answers yet!  There’s a second list in the space underneath this paragraph.  Same deal as before, you’ll have to highlight it to see it.  I want you to grade your answers a second time, but this time using the list below as an answer key.

(start here)>                                               
 United States                                                      
 People's Republic of China                                                            
 United Kingdom
 India                  <(end here)                
Did your score improve a few points?  In my tiny sample, people who got a 5 or so on the first quiz typically get around a 7 or 8 when graded against this rubric. 

BUT!  Here’s the thing.  The above list is a list of the world’s 10 largest economies.  (I took the IMF estimate, but you'll see the WB's and CIA's are pretty similar).
I think this is a pretty interesting result.  When asked to think of the world’s largest countries by population, many of us are accidentally, inadvertently, subconsciously thinking of the world’s largest nations by the size of their economy.  Our awareness of a national identity seems more connected to that nation's economic size then it is to the number of people who actually are part of that culture
I think this has implications for small nations looking to preserve their national identities and cultures in the globalized world.  It looks like we associate prominence and relevance of a people and their culture with their economic prowess, not the actual number of people out there who even have that national identity. 
          And why? Well...I don’t know.
I’d argue, that if smaller countries don’t want to fall to the wayside of the global consciousness, it might be their economy that they need to promote first and foremost.  The world’s awareness of their cultural identity seems to follow naturally afterwards. 
Other small countries seem to be successful in bolstering their national identities by this very method...England, and France, for example.
(I've included links to lists of both the world's largest economies and the worlds most populated countries.  Check your "incorrect" guesses, and see if your guesses tended to be nations with large economies or nations with larger populations.)

Again, why this happens I don’t know.  I would only be speculating.  I guess that maybe there is a correlation between political and economic power (a chicken and the egg type of thing), and it’s these nation’s politics that is actually catching our eye?  Or is it that those who have money are the only ones who can afford promoting their culture abroad?
Any thoughts?  Do you know anyone who has done more in depth work on an economic/cultural bolstering connection?  Post in the comments below.
Also if you are a teacher, or some one who likes to annoy their friends, please try this experiment out on others and tell us what happens!

PS – I realize that the tendencies for Americans to perceive European countries to be more populated than they really are might just be a skewedness due to cultural bias, ie we’re are more culturally similar to Europeans than to other parts of the world, so we might pay more attention to/be more aware of them without noticing.
           This blog has a lot of readers in India.  If you in India try this quiz, I’d like to hear about your results in particular!  If more of you answered with countries like Pakistan or Indonesia, then perhaps this phenomenon has more to do with economic and geopolitical connections than with just economic size.  We won’t know if you don’t tell us!           


  1. Hmm...

    China + +
    India + -
    Brazil + +
    Russia + +
    Argentina - -
    United State of America + +
    Mexico - -
    South Africa - -
    Venezuela - -
    Thailand - -

    First test:

    Second test:

    I did worst on the second test, as I was specifically avoiding European countries (as I already know they are relatively low in population). Fascinating test, however.

  2. Actually you tied (I got things out of order when I first typed in the list, its fixed as of 6/23/11). So you're really a 5/10 on each.

    Thanks for playing though!!

  3. China + +
    India + +
    USA + +
    Russia + -
    Indonesia + -
    Brazil + +
    Nigeria + -
    Philippines - -
    Mexico - -
    Germany - +

    7 / 5

    Gave Germany too much credit; given more than a minute, probably woulld have thought better of it.

  4. Dave - Venezuela and Argentina were your guesses that have small populations, but relatively larger economies. For Tim, it was Germany that got you. These countries are ones that "feel bigger" to me too! Even though I know now that they are small, it still seems kinda surprising...

  5. First test: 7/10

    Second test: 4/10

  6. India
    South Africa


    note: Dan stood over me and yelled until I wrote down 10 answers.

    1. Cannot stop giggling. May need medical attention to make it stop.

  7. note: Christy is a good sport

    also, Christy did improve her score 1 point when graded against the second list.

    I have noticed that people tend to guess many of the English speaking nations during this exercise. They are all quite large economically, but only constitute a small fraction of the world's inhabitants (with the exception of the US, large in population and economy).

    Australia - 13th largest economy in the world, 50th most populated nation (pop of 22 million)

    Canada - 9th largest world economy, 36th most populated (35 million)

    UK - 6th largest economy, 22nd most populated (62 million)

    New Zealand - 50th largest econ, 122nd most populated (4 million)

    The residents of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand COMBINED make up 1.79% of the world's population. To give you a frame of reference, the residents of Texas, California and New York make up 1.18% of the world's people. Alternatively, 1.62% of all human beings are from Mexico.

    I have a hard time with that fact. Doesn't that "feel" a lot smaller than you'd think?