Global Economy
January 10, 2013

World’s top 50 economies: 38 countries, 5 firms, 3 government agencies, 3 state-owned enterprises, and 1 non-profit.

By Edward Gresser

THE NUMBERS: World’s largest economies, in trillions of dollars –

World GDP* $69.90
1. United States $15.09
2. China $7.30
16. Korea $1.17
17. U.S. Health & Human Services Department** $0.85
18. Turkey $0.78
19. U.S. Social Security Department $0.77
27. Norway $0.49
28. Royal Dutch/Shell $0.48
29. Iran $0.48
38. Sinopec $0.38
44. Venezuela $0.32
45. Catholic Church*** $0.30
46. Greece $0.30
50. Chile  

* From U.S. OMB tables, counting HHS as administrator of Medicare and Medicaid.
** Estimate from The Economist, August 2012.
*** Estimate from Forbes list of 2012 billionaires.


By the IMF’s estimate, the world economy fell just short of $70 trillion in 2012.  Dividing this by country, the top 50 economies begin with America’s $15 trillion and end with Kazakhstan at $186 billion, with the U.S., China, Japan, and the European Union together accounting for about two-thirds of last year’s world output.

Country-by-country measurement is the standard way to sum up GDP. An alternative would be to add up the output of institutions of various types: businesses, government agencies, religious organizations, secular non-profits, and international organizations. A rough version of such a list (insouciantly ignoring the need for consistent ways to choose between revenue and output as an indicator of size, and placing the size of institutions in the context of national economies) might come from the CNN/Fortune “Global 500,” a list of the world’s largest companies, plus the Economist’s educated guess at the income of the world’s largest religious institution, plus searches through agency and international-organization budgets. On this basis, a list of the world’s top 50 ‘economies’ would include 32 countries and 18 institutions:

* 38 countries, from the US at the top to Denmark.
* 5 private companies, led by energy producer Royal Dutch Shell in 28th place, ExxonMobil in 30th, and Wal-Mart Stores in 31st.
* 3 U.S. government agencies, with the $854 billion Department of Health and Human Services at the top by virtue of its administration of Medicare and Medicaid; the Social Security Administration in 19th place, and the Defense Department in 22nd
* 3 Chinese state-owned enterprises, including Sinopec in 36th place, China National Petroleum, and “State Grid,” the electric power utility.
* 1 religious institution, the Catholic Church, which the Economist’s $300 billion worldwide revenue estimate would place 41st, between Greece and Venezuela.


Two more observations –

Iindividual & international organization vs. country: The world’s richest man (Mexican telecom king Carlos Slim Helu) is said to have raised his fortune by about $13 billion last year. This figure is about equal to the national income of Albania or Cambodia, which tie for 120th in worldwide country-by-country GDP rankings. And the $5.2 billion budget of the United Nations was about equal to the GDP of Guinea in West Africa, which ranked 146th among countries.

Companies vs. countries: Comparing the revenue of big companies to their home countries may shed some light on politics. The global revenue of the largest American-based company was the equivalent of 3 percent of American GDP; Japan Post rates about 4 percent of Japanese GDP; the top Chinese state enterprise, Sinopec, was about 5 percent of Chinese GDP, and Germany’s Volkswagen 6 percent of German GDP. Russia’s largest company, Gazprom, brought in $160 billion, or just under 10 percent of Russian GDP; and at the likely top of the big-enterprise-to-national GDP ratios, Venezuela’s state energy company PDVSA accounted for 40 percent of Venezuelan GDP.

Some lists –

Companies by country: As of 2012, a quarter of the world’s top-500 businesses are based in the United States, a quarter in the European Union, a quarter in China and Japan, and a quarter everywhere else. The Atlantic share of the total has dropped since the crisis, with the U.S. down from 162 top-500 firms in 2007 to 132 in 2012; the EU from 163 to 136; and Canada from 16 to 11. China is up from 24 to 73, while Brazil and India have added 2 each, and Japan and Australia one apiece. The CNN/Fortune Global 500 list in 2012:

…and the pre-crisis list of 2007:

The OMB’s historical budget tables, with budgets by agency at pg. 77:

The Economist’s $300 billion estimate of the income of the Catholic Church, drawn from a look at church education, religious, health, and other holdings in the United States, plus a guess that the U.S. accounts for about 60 percent of the Church’s global income:

And four large organizations –

The world’s largest state enterprise – Sinopec:

The largest religious institution – The Vatican:

The largest international organization – The UN’s budget office:

And the largest private company – Royal Dutch/Shell: