Jerry F. sent us a link to a neat interactive website where you can look at global GDP per capita by country, region, predominance of Buddhism/Islam/Christianity, language spoken, and so on. The data come from the 2008 CIA World Factbook.

The country with the highest GDP per capita? That would be itsy-bitsy Liechtenstein:

Picture 1

Much of Liechtenstein’s economy is linked to its popularity as a place to register holding companies because of low business taxes, so the exceedingly high GDP is probably a result of that. With a GDP of $103,500, Qatar is the second wealthiest nation.

Compare that snapshot of part of the Europe graph to this one for countries in the Horn of Africa:

Picture 2

From what I could tell, the lowest per capita GDP is in Zimbabwe: $200. Only one country on the entire African continent (Equatorial Guinea) breaks $20,000. The shockingly low GDPs in Africa, which indicate a continued lack of industrial (or any other) development, is the most striking pattern. Poor countries in Asia and South America seem downright wealthy by comparison.

As with any international database, I’m sure there are weaknesses with the Factbook–if nothing else, the difficulty of collecting meaningful, comparable data for all countries. I’d pay attention to the overall pattern rather than the specific dollar amount for any one country. If any of you have specific knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the CIA Factbook, let us know in the comments.

And also, of course, these numbers tell us nothing about how national wealth is distributed within each country. The average standard of living might be better in a country with a lower GDP where wealth is more evenly distributed across the population than in a “richer” country where a small group controls a highly disproportionate amount of wealth.

Related posts: military spending as a % of GDP, map of global use of electric lights after dark, carbon dioxide emissions per country, questioning the developed/undeveloped binary, international disproportions, and inequality in affluent nations.