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24 Iconic World Flags, and What They Mean

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From the skull and bones at the top of a pirate ship to a white flag on a battlefield, a single piece of fabric can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Depending on where they fly, flags can represent freedom or control, danger or safety.

In the context of modern times, flags are best known as national symbols — and they’re used to air a country’s past, present, and future vision all rolled into one.

The Meaning of Flags

Today’s infographic from Just the Flight looks at some the world’s most iconic flags, and the intricate stories and ideals that can be found in their designs.

Flags of the World

The Americas

Since 1777, the star-spangled banner of the United States has gone through several facelifts. The current version has been in use since Hawaii gained statehood in 1960. Puerto Rico has been voting to become the 51st state in recent years — and if the U.S. government proved to accept such a resolution, the flag would be amended once more.

The largest country in South America, Brazil adopted its flag design in 1889. The primarily green background represents its lush Amazonian forest while the yellow diamond signifies its wealth in gold. Meanwhile, the Portuguese slogan on the flag, Ordem e Progresso, is a nod to democracy.

Europe

Denmark holds the Guinness world record for the oldest continuous use of their national flag, since 1625. The Danish flag is known as the Dannebrog, or Danish Cloth — as legend has it, the Dannebrog ‘miraculously’ fell from the sky in a battle during the Northern Crusades.

The Union Jack of the United Kingdom combines aspects of three older national flags and was adopted in 1801. Displaying the flag upside down is considered lèse-majesté — “to do wrong to majesty”, or an insult to the Crown — and is offensive to some.

Asia and Oceania

India’s tricolor flag was first flown in 1923. However, the colors do not represent religions or hours in the day — saffron symbolizes indifference to material gains, the white band represents light while the navy blue Dharma Chakra (wheel of truth) depicts dynamic change, and green demonstrates the country’s relationship to nature.

New Zealand’s flag features elements from the British Commonwealth. Since 2015, there have been ongoing debates among Kiwis about whether to amend the flag’s design. Frequent confusion with Australia is a significant pro for change, but national identity and financial costs are strong arguments against it.

Nepal is the only country without a rectangular (or square) national flag. The two triangles pay tribute to its geographic location in the Himalayas as well as the Shah and Rana dynasties. The sun and moon symbols on the flag used to have human faces on them, but were removed in 1962.

Africa

South Africa boasts one of the world’s most colorful flags. When it was first adopted after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, it was the first world flag to have six colors but no seal or brocade. Interestingly, while there is no inherent meaning in its colors, the Y shape symbolizes the convergence of diverse elements and societal unity.

Mozambique is the only national flag in the world to feature a modern weapon – specifically, an AK-47 with an attached bayonet. Adopted in 1983, the rifle represents vigilance and defense, while the hoe crossing it represents the country’s agriculture.

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Politics

Mapped: The World’s Top Countries for Military Spending

Global military spending is now at a 32-year high. We show countries’ military spending by dollars and as a portion of GDP.

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Mapped: The World’s Top Countries for Military Spending

By practically any measure, the world today is more peaceful and less war-torn on a global scale, relative to the past.

For instance, declarations of war between nations and soldier casualties have both dropped drastically since the 20th century. Yet, military spending has not followed this trend.

The Top 10 Military Spenders

According to SIPRI, global military spend reached almost $2 trillion in 2020. The top 10 countries represent roughly 75% of this figure, and have increased their spending by $51 billion since the year prior.

Here’s how the worlds top 10 military spenders compare to each other:

RankCountryMilitary Spend 2020 ($B)% ChangeMilitary Spend 2019 ($B)
#1🇺🇸 United States $778.0+6.2%$732.0
#2🇨🇳 China$252.0-3.4%$261.0
#3🇮🇳 India$72.9+2.5%$71.1
#4🇷🇺 Russia$61.7-5.2%$65.1
#5🇬🇧 United Kingdom$59.2+21.5%$48.7
#6🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$57.5-7.1%$61.9
#7🇩🇪 Germany$52.8+7.1%$61.9
#8🇫🇷 France$52.7+5.1%$50.1
#9🇯🇵 Japan$49.1+3.1%$47.6
#10🇰🇷 South Korea$45.7+4.1%$43.9
Total$1,481.6+3.5%$1,430.7

The U.S. isn’t labeled as a global superpower for nothing. The country is by far the largest military spender, and its $778 billion budget trumps the remainder of the list’s collective $703.6 billion. On its own, the U.S. represents just under 40% of global military spending.

This year, Saudi Arabia has lost out on a top five seat to the UK, after a 7.1% decline in spending compared to a 21.5% increase for the UK.

Military Spend as a Percentage of GDP

Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP can be used to compare military spending relative to the size of a country’s economy.

Military Spend as a Share of GDP

Click here to view a high-resolution version of this image.

When looking at things this way, many of the top spenders above do not appear. This may be an indication of their economic prowess or a demonstration that the money might be used for other vital areas such as education, healthcare, or infrastructure.

RankCountryRegionSpend as a % of GDP (2020)
#1🇴🇲 OmanMiddle East11.0%
#2🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaMiddle East8.4%
#3🇩🇿 AlgeriaNorth Africa6.7%
#4🇰🇼 KuwaitMiddle East6.5%
#5🇮🇱 IsraelMiddle East5.6%
#6🇷🇺 RussiaEurope/Asia4.3%
#7🇲🇦 MoroccoNorth Africa4.3%
#8🇮🇶 IraqMiddle East4.1%
#9🇺🇦 UkraineEurope4.1%
#10🇵🇰 PakistanSouth Asia4.0%

It’s pretty rare for countries to reach double digits for military spending as a percentage of GDP. In this case, Oman is an outlier, as the Middle Eastern country’s spending relative to GDP grew from 8.8% last year, to 11% in 2020.

Many of the countries with the highest military spending to GDP are located in the Middle East—a reflection of the escalating conflicts that have persisted in the region for well over two decades.

It’s worth noting that some data for the Middle Eastern region are estimates, due to the aforementioned regional instability.

More Spending to Come?

Global military spending figures are at a 32-year high, despite the pandemic’s effect on shrinking economic output.

World Military Spend 1988-2020

Although a major war hasn’t occurred in some time, it’s not to say the geopolitical mood hasn’t been tense.

The last 12 months or so have witnessed some nail-biting moments including:

  • Border disputes between China and India
  • Heightening tensions between China and Taiwan
  • Russia’s military presence in eastern Ukraine
  • The hacking of SolarWinds, a Texas-based company, by Russia
  • The ongoing Yemen crisis
  • An Israel-Iran feud

Will 2021 extend the trend of peace, or will rising military spending mean even higher tensions?

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Politics

Which Generation Has the Most Influence Over U.S. Politics?

Visual Capitalist’s inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI) examines the political power held by each generation and their influence on society.

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Measuring Influence in U.S. Politics, by Generation

Generations are a widely recognized and discussed concept, and it’s assumed people all understand what they refer to. But the true extent of each generation’s clout has remained undetermined—until now.

In our inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI) 2021, we examine the power and influence each generation currently holds on American society, and its potential to evolve in the future.

Political power by generation was one of three key categories we used to quantify the current landscape. Before we dive into the results, here’s how the Political Power category was calculated.

Measuring Generational Power

To begin with, here’s how we categorized each generation:

GenerationAge range (years)Birth year range
The Silent Generation76 and over1928-1945
Baby Boomers57-751946-1964
Gen X41-561965-1980
Millennials25-401981-1996
Gen Z9-241997-2012
Gen Alpha8 and below2013-present

Using these age groups as a framework, we then calculated the Political Power category using these distinct equally-weighted variables:

political power category breakdown

With this methodology in mind, here’s how the Political Power category shakes out, using insights from the GPI.

Share of Political Power by Generation

Baby Boomers dominated with over 47% of the total political power by generation. This cohort has particular strength in the judicial system and in Congress.

GenerationPolitical Power Share
Baby Boomers47.4%
Gen X29.0%
Millennials10.0%
Silent12.1%
Gen Z1.6%

Baby Boomers, along with the Silent Generation also control 80% of political spending. Meanwhile, Gen X accounts for nearly half (46%) of local government positions.

Both voters and politicians play key roles in shaping American society. Thus, two variables worth looking closer at are the evolving electoral base and the composition of Congress.

The Changing Face of the U.S. Voter

Younger generations have very different perceptions on everything from cannabis to climate change. This is starting to be reflected in legislation.

2016 was a watershed moment for politicians vying for the vote—it was the last election in which Baby Boomers made up over a third of U.S. voters. Collectively, Boomers’ voting power will decline from here on out.

GPI Political Power By Generation Supplemental Evolving Electorate

Within the next two decades, the combined voting power of Millennials and Gen Z will skyrocket from 32% in 2020 up to 55% by 2036.

Meanwhile, a decade from now, the oldest members of Gen Alpha (those born in 2013 and later) will enter the playing field and become eligible to vote in 2031.

The View from the Top

Having examined generational power in the electorate, we now turn our attention to the people on the other side of the democratic equation—the politicians.

In most cases, it takes many decades of experience and reputation building to reach the highest offices in the land. That’s why the median age of Congress (61.2) is much higher than the median age of the U.S. population at large (38.1).

At this point in time, Baby Boomers are in the sweet spot, and it shows in the numbers. Boomers represent 298 of 532 Congressional seats (56% of all seats), and Gen X’s growing contingent of members represents 31%.

GPI Political Power By Generation Supplemental Composition of Congress

On one end of the spectrum, the Silent Generation still occupies 7% of seats, which roughly reflects the group’s share of the U.S. population. California’s Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Don Young are both 87 years old, the latter having represented Alaska for 25 terms.

On the other end of the spectrum, Millennials currently claim 32 seats, just 6% of the total. As of 2021, this entire cohort now meets the minimum age requirement (25) to serve in the House of Representatives. The youngest member of Congress is Republican Madison Cawthorn, a representative for North Carolina at just 25 years old. Meanwhile, Senator Jon Ossoff is the youngest Senator in the country, serving Georgia at 36 years old.

GPI Political Power By Generation Supplemental Population vs. congress

This difference in political power by generation is stark considering that both Boomers and Millennials both make up similar proportions of the U.S. population at large. In that sense, Millennials are greatly underrepresented in Congress compared to Boomers.

Gen Z Waiting Patiently in the Wings

Gen Z’s current age range is a natural reason why they don’t yet have a foothold in government. But by 2022, the oldest members of Gen Z will turn 25, meeting the minimum age requirement to get elected into the House of Representatives.

With the oldest members of this generation soon turning 25, how long will it be before a representative from Gen Z occupies a seat in the Capitol Building?

Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)

The Generational Power Index

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