Thursday, 1 November 2012

Imperialism by Numbers - Amendment

This is an update to the chart on the ‘Index of Imperialism’ published on this blog six months ago, on 1 May. The change made here is that I use another set of data to account for the international banks in major countries; otherwise the five factors in the ‘Imperialism index’ remain the same. To recap, these were made up from: nominal GDP, military spending, the stock of foreign direct investment, the size of international banks based in a particular country and the global use of that country’s currency in international foreign exchange reserves.

As noted previously, any set of data has its limitations. However, the earlier data I used for banks were based on a country’s ownership of the top 50 international banks and this only covered 14 countries. The new numbers are based on BIS data for the relative size of international assets and liabilities of banks operating in particular countries. They are not limited by the number of banks and cover 19 of the 20 countries in the chart. The BIS also gives figures for bank assets and liabilities by the nationality of the bank. However, these data are for only nine countries, so I did not use them (in any case, they show a similarly ranked pattern to the bank-location data that is used here).

With these new data for international banking, the rank and index value of some countries changes significantly, but in a way that I think better reflects power relations in the world economy. The US is no longer top in all categories; it falls into second place as a centre for international banking, behind the UK . But this still leaves the US as top power, with the UK a distant second. Germany moves up to position 3, China jumps to position 4, now ahead of Japan, and France falls to position 6 from position 3 that it had before. Italy, Switzerland and Canada fall back in their ranking; Netherlands moves up to position 7.

(The chart has now been changed from when first published, with corrected ISO codes for Canada, CA, and Belgium, BE)

Chart: The Imperial Pecking Order

Notes: The height of each bar is given by the country’s total index value, which is then broken down into the respective components. Countries are identified by their two-letter ISO code. Take care, because CH is Switzerland, not China (which is CN), and SA is Saudi Arabia, not South Africa (not shown, as it was ranked number 26).

I would reiterate that the position of an individual country can only properly be understood by looking at its relationship to the imperialist system as a whole, not simply by examining whether its index value is higher or lower than another’s. It would be foolish to say that a particular index number means a country is imperialist, while one that is a certain amount smaller shows that it is not. The index components summarise only particular dimensions of the system. Different measures would produce different results, and any index measure would have a problem grasping the dynamics of the system. However, the chart I use clearly indicates that a very small number of countries are head and shoulders, and elbows too, ahead of all the others in the world. Most other measures of international power would show similar results.

Tony Norfield, 1 November 2012


  1. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for your blog in general. There seem to be a couple of misprints in your Imperial Pecking Order Chart. I assume BF should be BE -- Belgium, not Burkina Faso. And the second CN should be CA for Canada,no?

  2. Walter, thanks for spotting these errors. You are correct about the proper codes! I will change these.


  3. Surely when factoring in military spending you have to analyse how the spending is used. For example the US diverts far more resources to overseas bases and overseas military adventures than does China. So it isn't just the numbers but the substance behind them also.

  4. Reply to Steve H: Yes I agree. This article was just an amendment to the original one in May 2012, where I note the limitations of such numbers in more detail. However, China is permanent member of the UN Security Council, which shows a definite global status in big power rankings. In my view, China is in a transitional stage regarding imperial status.

  5. I think your method is faulty and only softens the word "imperialism" -- an immoral and criminal act against humanity.
    The GDP, banking and FX does not necessarily have anything to do with imperialism hence the stats could be very misleading.
    If you want to measure imperialism -- you can start measuring military spending abroad (not counting military spending on UN contribututions). Then you can count the 14 "security" agencies used at home and abroad for "imperialist" reasons. (The CIA alone probably spends $100 billion annually, plus those in the Embassies abroad.) Also count multi-billions in bribes to dictators and politicians abroad to keep them in line. Then there are the foundations such as USAID, National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, Brookings, Rand, Georgetown and dozens of other foundations and universities who spend millions analyzing foreign countries (and sending their reps abroad) for political/economic advantage (still imperialism).
    And then there's the mass media which spends billions promoting and parroting government propaganda to keep the masses on side -- and on and on.
    Hope you will change your method of calculating imperialism.


  6. Reply to JJR ...

    I discuss some of the limitations of the data used in my index in the original article on 1 May 2012 and this covers some of the points you raise here. The range of data I include is loosely related to the 5 features of imperialism summed up by Lenin.

    An important issue when constructing an index is to use features that can be quantified fairly easily. Of course, I am aware of the broader dimensions of imperialist influence that you list. While the US very likely has more of these than other powers, such means of influence are not only applied by the US. If it were possible to include these extra factors (not an exercise I plan to conduct in the foreseeable future), I doubt that this would do much to change the rank order of the countries in the index or their relative index values. I suspect that the value of these other items, if it could be calculated, would be closely correlated to the items that I do include, for example GDP and FDI.

    Finally, I do not view imperialism as an immoral and criminal 'act' against humanity. It is violent and reactionary capitalist system that dominates the world economy, led by a small number of powerful countries for whom the concepts of morality and legality are merely shifting tactical devices in their dealings with other states.

    Tony Norfield

  7. Yes, I'd agree the general order of imperialism would not change by what I suggested.
    However, I state that imperialism is immoral and criminal as follows:
    Imperialism is the outgrowth of capitalism -- the immoral system which puts "profits before people" and "individual self-interest" ahead of the public good. (BTW, Empire, not imperialism, is the highest stage of capitalism.)
    And there is NO LIMIT to what it includes (from fraud and murder to environment destruction), and with imperialism (control over other countries) which includes wars, oppression, bribery, support of dictators, overthrow of democracies and killing of some 20 million people by the US since end of WW11, is, as I stated, immoral to criminal.
    If it were not for "victor's justice" all US presidents after FDR would have been convicted of war crimes as defined by Nuremberg and UN laws. (Today's example of US lies against Iraq in which more than a million Iraqis have been murdered due to US imperialism -- and Obama, refuses to punish his predecessors -- because he's guilty of war crimes too.)
    Hence imperialism is criminal, as is capitalism from whence it came. The evilness of the capitalist system was pointed out by Adam Smith of this ruling class of capitalists which had, and still has, the vile maxim of: "Everything for ourselves and nothing for anyone else."
    And only due to the power of the internet has there been such an impetus for change -- by writers who are attempting to expose the history of lies and deception by the capitalist ruling classes around the world.


  8. Sorry, I paraphrased the quote from Adam Smith.
    It should have read" "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people."