Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776, but economists have done precious little to measure the comparative wealth of nations. We have GDP as the main economic comparator among nations, but that is only about 'income'; there's been no metric for retained wealth. Until now. That gap has been addressed by a recent UN publication which lays out a metric for the wealth of nations and even analyzes what part of that wealth arises from Human, Physical and Natural capital. In business terms, this gives us a balance sheet, as opposed to an Income Sheet.
Here is an extract from the report, as published recently in an article in The Economist chart section - boy I love that section! As a Canadian, it's comforting to see our country ranks high on the list of wealthy countries, - very high indeed on wealth per person. But the chart also emphasizes what we as Canadians already know: we are desperately dependent on our natural resources for all our wealth, and haven't been very good at developing our human or physical resources.
The authors of this report consider this a first cut at such an assessment and recognize that the process of measuring wealth will need many refinements before it has anywhere near the validity of GDP.
There is another Economist chart special (didn't I say I loved these charts?) that is all about measuring national well being instead of just financial strength. This time the work was done by the OECD.
Once again, Canada is in the upper cluster on this metric, again confirming something we already knew.
Another interesting part of this chart is the indication of the difference in economic well being between the top 20% and the bottom 20%. The US has a huge gap, confirming what we already know. But South Korea's gap between rich and poor was startlingly large too.