the fragmentation and concentration of the world -- 11/12/20

Today's encore selection -- from Empire by Niall Ferguson. The world is now filled with tiny countries. In 1946, there were only seventy-four independent countries. Today, there are more than two hundred, many of which are very small. Yet the concentration of wealth among larger countries has only increased, with the U.S., China, and Japan together accounting for 43 percent of total world GDP. In fact, if you were to consider the European Union a single entity, just those four together constitute almost 65 percent of world GDP:

"On the eve of the First World War, imperialism had reduced the number of independent countries in the world to fifty-nine. But since the advent of decolonization there have been sustained increases in that number.

"In 1946 there were seventy-four independent countries; in 1950, eighty-nine. By 1995 the number was 192, with the two biggest increases coming in the 1960s (mainly Africa, where twenty-five new states were formed between 1960 and 1964) and the 1990s (mainly Eastern Europe, as the Soviet Empire disintegrated). And many of the new states are tiny. No fewer than fifty-eight of today's states have populations less that 2.5 million; thirty-five have less than 500,000 inhabitants.

"There are two disadvantages to this political fragmentation. Small countries are often formed as a result of civil war within an earlier multiethnic polity -- the most common form of conflict since 1945. That in itself is economically disruptive. In addition, they can be economically inefficient even in peacetime, too small to justify the paraphernalia of statehood they insist on decking themselves out in: border posts, bureaucracies and the rest. Political fissiparity -- the fragmentation of states -- and its attendant economic costs have been among the principal sources of instability in the post-war world."


Niall Ferguson


Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power


Basic Books


Copyright Niall Ferguson, 2002


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