Norway’s economic success is unrivalled, both in Scandinavia as well as compared to other countries with oil resources. In the early 20th century, Norway was relatively poor; they had limited agricultural lands and relied heavily on ocean resources and their merchant marine fleet to fuel their economy. The hydroelectric resources were a part of their growth that put them back on par with their European neighbors.
The 1969 discovering of oil in the North Sea was the obvious answer to their economic growth. The overlooked aspect is the low levels of corruption, sound public policy for future economic success, and democratic institutions that were already deeply entrenched in Norway. Many oil-rich countries have squandered the wealth being incentivized for short-term spending at best, with politicians siphoning off the money at worse. Timing can matter tremendously; Norway was developed first, THEN discovered oil in 1969. That means that the already solid institutions were the ones to shepherd in their enormous success.
The economic restructuring of the United States is reconfiguring cities, political alignments, rural patterns and so many more systems. I would like to highlight how retail has changed in the last few decades in the United States.
In the early 2000s, I was visiting a small, declining Pennsylvania town name Bradford. One of the residents was bemoaning the economic and demographic decline of this Appalachian city of about 10,000 residents, noting how the most ambitious and brightest high schoolers from the area have moved out, leading to brain drain. Many locally owned businesses on Main Street had been struggling, and the resident said, “Thank goodness for Walmart and the Dollar stores…those are the only things that are keeping business around this town.” Out of politeness to my host, I didn’t mention that I saw the opposite happening: Wal-Mart and the Dollar stores, were capitalizing on economies of scale to muscle out locally businesses, creating an economic pattern that would have negative long-term consequences on this community and others like it.
Bradford, PA is not unique, but emblematic of many places in the United States. Over 10,000 new dollar stores have sprouted up in the United States since 2000, especially in small towns and rural areas. Some places are starting to push pack, since the communities are not seeing this as a positive development for the community.
Online shopping is another persistent pattern of the last few decades that is reconfiguring our cities, and the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these issues that were already under way. Department stores have been anchors of shopping malls, which themselves are struggling after overexpanding. Many department stores have gone under, and those remaining brick-and-mortar department stores are struggling against the online shopping paradigm shift. Business with continue, but it will not be business as usual.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER: Why can cheap retail stores have a negative impact on a local community? Can you see this anywhere in your community? How does online shopping positively and negatively impact your community?
Do you need a case study on how to explore big data like the Observatory of Economic Complexity with students to uncover geographic patterns? This site let’s you ask interrelated questions and enter a rabbit hole of economic, geographic data. This is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography, so let me show you how the data visualizations can be used to make concrete observations that will unearth spatial relationships.
While I was wondering about the world largest coffee exporters, I looked at the Observatory of Economic Complexity’s data visualization tools. I was expecting to find mostly tropical countries where coffee is grown. I was baffled to find that Germany was listed as a major coffee exporter, along with many other Western European countries.
This at first seemed like a misprint but many European countries like Germany import import green coffee beans from a variety of tropical countries, so they are a major producer of coffee without growing a single bean. In fact, the world’s largest single port for shipping coffee is Hamburg.
The highlands of East Africa were the original hearth of coffee beans and today, countries like Ethiopia and Uganda export green coffee beans overwhelmingly to European countries which in turn, roasts them and then exports them internationally.
African coffee growers face some steep difficulties when it comes to exporting roasted coffee. This “value added” step would certainly increase the trading power of their agricultural commodities on the international trading market, but many European coffee labels already dominate that step in the commodity chain and have the made deep in-roads with consumers.
Exporting the finalized roasted coffee is but a very small part the overall German economy (the largest of the light green boxes-0.26% of total exports). For Ethiopia however, coffee exports is a major component of all their international trade (34.6%). Ethiopia produces something of high value, but is not positioned to extract a lot of profit from that commodity.
This is the crux of what makes decisions about free trade/fair trade difficult for individual consumers that are hoping to “vote with their pocketbook” to put their dollars in economic practices that they approve of. Commodity chains of so many products have become increasingly complex and these goods are more connected with far more places and workers than most would imagine. Simply reading the label does NOT tell the full story of most products and the economic geographies that produced them.
This is just one story about the global economy that can be unearthed by exploring the Observatory of Economic Complexity. Were you wondering about Ethiopia’s cut flowers or Uganda’s gold? There is an entire network of economic relations that waiting to be uncovered if you are curious and willing to explore the data. This is why it is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography.
There are many stories in this video in the nearly 40 years of economic history of South America since 1990.The two most important stories portrayed (or at least the most dramatic) in the animated chart are decline of Venezuela’s economy and the rise of Chile’s. This video can act as a primer to get students to consider the regional context of economic growth as well as the differing historical, political, and geographic context that leads to distinct results in any given country.
Istanbul’s location on the Bosporus has been vital to the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire as well as the modern state of Turkey. This is one of those crucial chokepoints of global commerce like the Straits of Malacca, and the demands on both of these natural waterways will soon exceed their capacity. Thailand is working on the Thai canal to relieve the pressures on the Straits of Malacca (and enrich themselves in the process); Nicaragua is also seeking to create an alternative to the Panama Canal which is in the process of expanding their locks to accommodate the massive container ships.
Istanbul is likewise looking to find other ways the keep their locational advantage as the gateway to the Black Sea region and beyond. Projects on this grand of a scale have tremendous real estate, trading, transportation and even tourism impacts. They can also bring negative impacts to the local water supply, wildlife, other environmental concerns. The bigger the project, the bigger the environmental risks and the greater the economic rewards.
“We offer a variety of resources on U.S. Export/Import Trade with the World with millions of free datasets.” Source: U.S. Trade Numbers
This data visualization tool is very reminiscent of the Atlas of Economic Complexity. While the Atlas of Economic Complexity is better for exploring global trade patterns, this site adds a local impact to the global economy. Users can explore the major port of entries and see what goods are entering or leaving the United States from particular cities as nodes in global transportation networks. The permeability of borders are an economic necessity to take advantage of the economies of scale.
“Despite 25 years of democracy, South Africa remains the most economically unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank. If anything, South Africa is even more divided now than it was in 1994 as the legacy of apartheid endures. Previously disadvantaged South Africans hold fewer assets, have fewer skills, earn lower wages, and are still more likely to be unemployed, a 2018 World Bank report on poverty and inequality in South Africa found.”
This CNN article takes a shocked tone, but that removes South Africa from it’s historical and geographic context even if the outcome is unfortunate (as a bonus for educators, the article has a GINI reference in its analysis with the data charts). Time’s cover story is more detailed and nuanced. In the late 1980s, the apartheid system was becoming untenable; the injustices and discontent make the apartheid government unable to govern. Both the government and activists recognized that change was necessary and compromises were needed to allow South Africa to move from the apartheid system of racial separation to nonracial democracy without falling apart.
The post-apartheid government guaranteed that while political power would be transferred, economic power would still stay ensconced in the hands of the land-owning elites, since there was to be no massive land redistribution. Neighboring Zimbabwe had disastrous land redistribution attempts and everyone wants to avoid economic chaos. Land reform will be be a key issue in tomorrow’s election (see this BBC article for more election issues).
"In so many ways, Seattle is an amazing success story, thriving and economically vibrant, drawing thousands of people from around the country and the world. But we’ve also paid a hefty price for our success. The sudden injection of tech wealth has made Seattle a more exclusive place. It’s exacerbated inequalities, pushing people out of the city or even into homelessness. Rapid growth has taxed our infrastructure, and the debate over where to house all these new people has divided the city."
Here are three articles from West Coast cities (Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego) all bemoaning the troubles/difficulties associated with the increasingly expensive housing markets that are negatively impacting the quality of life and the communities. The three cities in question are all perceived as highly desirable places to live and many creative industries and businesses are flourishing in these areas.
Rapid economic success will change a city–and reconfigure the spatial networks and the sense of place in many neighborhoods. As demand for new housing in exclusive neighborhoods grows, gentrification is but one of the processes that will impact the city. These are some of the most economically successful cities on the West Coast; but economic success for a region will also present new difficulties and challenges as many domestic and international migrants are attracted to these comes the areas. Virtually all of the cities that migrants are being pulled to for economic opportunities and cultural amenities are going to be experiencing some similar struggles.
I know that YOU know that China ended the One-Child Policy, but many incoming college freshman have a world view about population that is a generation behind on many of the current population trends. This video discusses most of the APHG population topics using China as the world’s most important population case study–that makes this video excellent to show in a regional or human geography course.