Adam Smith proposed that the Wealth of Nations was built upon the heels of selling their goods to other countries and buying nothing in return.
We’ve seen this isn’t true, China is a great example, they have a funny money system at play and massive trade imbalances.
How should we evaluate the wealth of nations then?
I propose a complementary lens to evaluate the wealth of nations.
I believe the wealth of a nation is directly related to its quality of Rule of Law and its MWh/capita production and efficiency.
Rule of Law
This is a complex myriad of navigation. Generally, my belief is that monetary policy within banks, cross border money policy, ease of transmission, ease of buying/selling/owning property, tax policy, and secular rights will dictate the true wealth of a nation. There’s much more to this….
Countries like Saudi Arabia may be wealthy, but they do not have a wealthy populace that is free, secular, and remotely egalitarian by western standards.
Countries like Norway are wealthy and chock full of oil.
Energy Production – Steel & Nitrogen
A country that surpasses ~2MWh/capita can produce enough steel & nitrogen to build a modern and performant civilization. Looking at a simple chart of energy consumption per capita from Wikipedia gives a lot of insight.
Steel is the backbone of infrastructure built on the heels of viable energy production and feedstock coke-ash(coal). Steel is energy intensive and a primary ingredient for roads, buildings, and everything in between.
“the world now consumes in one year nearly as much steel as it did during the first post-World War II decade, and (even more incredibly) more cement than it consumed during the first half of the twentieth century.”
― Vaclav Smil,
Steel is energy intensive.
Steel is everywhere.
Nitrogen is the energy intensive steroid for farm land that enables humanity to massively accelerate the production of food.
In 1909, Fritz Haber put osmium in a steel chamber, pumped it with Nitrogen and Hydrogen, pumped in heat and pressure, and the output was Ammonia which was the difficult raw feedstock for synthetic fertilizers. Carl Bosch made it possible to produce tons of nitrogen based fertilizer in a process now called the Haber-Bosch process.
The Haber Bosch process is responsible for 1/3rd of the world’s food supply.
Just how much did Haber Bosch contribute to humanity?
The next time you walk into a country, try to guess it’s MWh/capita. The rule of Law is pretty straightforward to characterize as advanced or primitive.
Civilizations that have low energy production rates have increased birth rates. Electrification seems to decrease birth rates at large. One study of Indonesia suggests that ~25% of the decrease in birth rates in certain countries can be attributed to electrification.
Look at this list of countries and you’ll notice that poor electricity lacking countries have high birth rates.