US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs

Oct 26, 2014 by

[This post was originally published in December 2012]


Frank Jacobs has been collecting and publishing all kinds of intriguing maps—real, fictional, and what-if ones—and has been writing the Strange Maps blog since 2006. In 2007 he created a map of “US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs”. GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product, a convenient way of measuring and comparing the size of national economies. Annual GDP represents the market value of all goods and services produced within a country in a year. The U.S. remains the nation with the highest GDP in the world: at over $15 trillion, it is more than double the size of second largest economy, that of China. The idea behind Frank Jacobs’s map is to break down that gigantic U.S. GDP into the GDPs of individual states, and compare those to other countries’ GDP. The resulting map is both instructive and misleading. The latter is because the economies both of the US states and of the countries they are compared with are not weighted for their respective populations. For example, in 2007 Pakistan had a GDP that was slightly higher than that of Israel, but Pakistan’s population was about 170 million, while Israel was only 7 million people strong. The US states those economies are compared with (Arkansas and Oregon, respectively) are much closer to each other in population: 2.7 million and 3.4 million. Adjusted per capita, the GDP of states and countries they are compared to would be a good indication of the average wealth of citizens. Yet, a ranking of the economies on this map does serve two interesting purposes. First, it shows the size of US states’ economies relative to each other: California is the biggest, Wyoming the smallest. It also links those sizes with foreign economies, which are therefore also ranked: Mexico’s and Russia’s economies are about equal size, Ireland’s is twice as big as New Zealand’s.


The map on the left is an update of Frank Jacobs’s map (for the continental 48 states), adjusted to figures from 2010. Curiously, nearly all U.S. states are comparable to different countries, with only Michigan’s economy still most similar to that of Argentina. But while specific countries might have change, in several cases a given state’s economy corresponds to that of a similar country. For example, in 2007 Idaho’s economy was most comparable to that of Ukraine and in 2010 to that of Belarus. Similarly, in 2007 Massachusetts was most similar to Belgium and in 2010 to Austria. The 2010 map also exhibits some interesting clustering effects. For example, post-Soviet countries—Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan—find themselves comparable to states in the Great Plains. Four Southeast Asian countries—Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam—are comparable to states in a stretch running south from Wisconsin to Arkansas. A number of states along the Atlantic seaboard have economies equivalent to those of medium-sized European countries: Austria, Poland, Denmark, and Norway. California is still the state with the largest economy; if it were an independent nation, it would be the world’s eighth largest economy. The U.S. state with the smallest economy in 2010 is Vermont, matching most closely the GDP of Panama, but 103 independent nations, ranging from Latvia to Tuvalu, have even smaller economies.


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