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Richest Countries in the World 2024

Richest Countries in the World 2024

Many of the world’s richest countries are also the world’s smallest: the pandemic, the global economic slowdown and geopolitical turmoil have barely made a dent in their huge wealth.

What do people think when they think about the world’s richest countries? And what comes to mind when they think about the world’s smallest countries? Many people would probably be surprised to find that many of the planet’s wealthiest nations are also among the tiniest.

Some very small and very rich countries—like San Marino, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Singapore—benefit from having sophisticated financial sectors and tax regimes that attract foreign investment, professional talent and large bank deposits. Others like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have large reserves of hydrocarbons or other lucrative natural resources. Shimmering casinos and hordes of tourists are good for business too: Asia’s gambling haven Macao remains one of the most affluent states in the world despite having endured almost three years of intermittent lockdowns and pandemic-related travel restrictions.

But what do we mean when we say a country is “rich,” especially in an era of growing income inequality between the super-rich and everyone else? While gross domestic product (GDP) measures the value of all goods and services produced in a nation, dividing this output by the number of full-time residents is a better way of determining how rich or poor one country’s population is relative to another’s. The reason why “rich” often equals “small” then becomes clear: these countries’ economies are disproportionately large compared to their small number of inhabitants.

However, only when taking into account inflation rates and the cost of local goods and services can we get a more accurate picture of a nation’s average standard of living: the resulting figure is what is called purchasing power parity (PPP), often expressed in international dollars to allow comparisons between different countries.

Should we then automatically assume that in nations where PPP is particularly high the overall population is visibly better off than in most other places in the world? Not quite. We are dealing with averages and within each country structural inequalities can easily swing the balance in favor of those who are already advantaged.

The COVID-19 pandemic lifted the veil on these disparities in ways few could have predicted. While there is no doubt that the wealthiest nations—often more vulnerable to the coronavirus due to their older population and other risk factors—had the resources to take better care of those in need, those resources were not equally accessible to all. Furthermore, the economic fallout of lockdowns hit low-paid workers harder than those with high-paying occupations and that, in turn, fueled a new kind of inequality between those who could comfortably work from home and those who had to risk their health and safety by traveling to job sites. Those who lost their jobs because their industries shut down entirely found themselves without much of a safety net—large holes in the most celebrated welfare systems in the world were exposed.

Then as the pandemic subsided, inflation surged globally, Russia invaded Ukraine, exacerbating the food and oil price crisis. The Israel-Hamas followed, bringing more disruption to supply chains and commodity and energy markets. Lower-income families always tend to be hit the hardest, as they are forced to spend greater proportions of their incomes on basic necessities—housing, food and transportation—whose prices are more volatile and tend to increase the most.

In the 10 poorest countries in the world, the average per-capita purchasing power is less than $1,500 while in the 10 richest it is over $110,000, according to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A word of caution about these statistics: the IMF has warned repeatedly that certain numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, many nations in our ranking are tax havens, which means their wealth was originally generated elsewhere which artificially inflates their GDP. While a global deal to ensure that big companies pay a minimum tax rate of 15% was signed in 2021 by more than 130 governments (a deal that has yet to be implemented due to the opposition of legislators and politicians in many of them), critics have argued that this rate is barely higher than that tax havens like Ireland, Qatar and Macao.

It is estimated that over 15% of global jurisdictions are tax havens and the IMF has estimated further that by the end of the 2020s, about 40% of global foreign direct investment flows could be attributed to shrewd tax-evading tactics, up from 30% in the 2010s. In other words: these investments pass through empty corporate shells and bring little or no economic gain to the population where the money ends up.

Since the discovery of large offshore reserves in the late 1960s, Norway’s economic engine has been fueled by oil. As Western Europe’s top petroleum producer, the country has benefited for decades from rising prices.

Until it didn’t: prices crashed at the beginning of 2020, then the global pandemic ensued—and the krone was sent into freefall. In the second quarter of that year, Norwegian GDP fell by 6.3 %, the biggest decline in half a century and possibly since World War Two.

Does that mean Norwegians became significantly less wealthy than they were before the pandemic? Certainly not. After the initial shock, the economy gradually pared the losses and rebounded.

Further, when it comes to any unforeseen economic problem, Norwegians can always count on their $1.4 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest. Not only that, unlike many other rich nations, Norway’s high per capita GDP figures are a reasonably accurate reflection of the average person’s economic well-being. The country boasts one of the smallest income inequality gaps in the world.

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