The 8 Major Forces Shaping the Future of the Global Economy
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The 8 Major Forces Shaping the Future of the Global Economy

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The 8 Major Forces Shaping the Future of the Global Economy

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.

– Jimmy Dean

The world is changing faster than ever before.

With billions of people hyper-connected to each other in an unprecedented global network, it allows for an almost instantaneous and frictionless spread of new ideas and innovations.

Combine this connectedness with rapidly changing demographics, shifting values and attitudes, growing political uncertainty, and exponential advances in technology, and it’s clear the next decade is setting up to be one of historic transformation.

But where do all of these big picture trends intersect, and how can we make sense of a world engulfed in complexity and nuance? Furthermore, how do we set our sails to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this sea of change?

The Intersection of Data and Powerful Visuals

Interpreting massive amounts of data on how the world is changing can be taxing for even the most brilliant thinkers.

For this reason, our entire team at Visual Capitalist is focused on using the power of visual storytelling to make the world’s information more accessible. Our team of information designers works daily to transform complex data into graphics that are both intuitive and insightful, allowing you to see big picture trends from a new perspective.

After all, science says that 65% of people are visual learners – so why not put data in a language they can understand?

While we regularly publish our visuals in an online format, our most recent endeavor has been to compile our best charts, infographics, and data visualizations into one place: our new book Visualizing Change: A Data-Driven Snapshot of Our World, a 256-page hardcover coffee-table book on the forces shaping business, wealth, technology, and the economy.

The book focuses on eight major themes ranging from shifting human geography to the never-ending evolution of money. And below, we present some of the key visualizations in the book that serve as examples relating to each major theme.

1. The Tech Invasion

For most of the history of business, the world’s leading companies have been industrially-focused.

Pioneers like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison innovated in the physical realm using atoms – they came up with novel ways to re-organize these atoms to create things like the assembly line and the incandescent lightbulb. Then, companies invested massive amounts of capital to build physical factories, pay thousands of workers, and build these things.

The majority of the great blue chip companies were built this way: IBM, U.S. Steel, General Electric, Walmart, and Ford are just some examples.

But today’s business reality is very different. We live in a world of bytes – and for the first time technology and commerce have collided in a way that makes data far more valuable than physical, tangible objects.

The best place to see this is in how the market values businesses.

Market capitalization of tech companies

As you can see above, companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have supplanted traditional blue chip companies that build physical things.

The tech invasion is leveraging connectivity, network effects, artificial intelligence, and unprecedented scale to create global platforms that are almost impossible to compete with. The tech invasion has already taken over retail and advertising – and now invading forces have their eyes set on healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and education.

Will atoms ever be more valuable than bytes again?

Interesting Facts:

2. The Evolution of Money

Money is arguably one of humanity’s most important inventions. From beaver pelts to gold bars, the form and function of money has constantly fluctuated throughout history.

In the modern world, the definition of money is blurrier than ever. Central banks have opted to create trillions of dollars of currency out of thin air since the financial crisis – and on the flipside, you can actually use blockchain technology to create your own competing cryptocurrency in just a few clicks.

Regardless of what is money and what is not, people are borrowing record amounts of it.

The world has now amassed $247 trillion in debt, including $63 trillion borrowed by central governments:

Global debt by gdp

In today’s unusual monetary circumstances, massive debt loads are just one anomaly.

Here are other examples that illustrate the evolution of money: Venezuela has hyperinflated away almost all of its currency’s value, the “War on Cash” is raging on around the world, central banks are lending out money at negative interest rates (Sweden, Japan, Switzerland, etc.), and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are collectively worth over $200 billion.

How we view money – and how that perception evolves over time – is an underlying factor that influences our future.

Interesting Facts:

3. The Wealth Landscape

Wealth is not stagnant – and so for those looking to make the most out of global opportunities, it’s imperative to get a sense of how the wealth landscape is changing.

The modern view is either extremely healthy or bubbly, depending on how you look at it: Amazon and Apple are worth over $1 trillion, Jeff Bezos has a $100+ billion fortune, and the current bull market is the longest in modern history at 10 years.

Will this growth continue, and where will it come from?

Here’s one look based on projections from the World Bank:

Where is Global Growth Happening?

Despite these estimates, there is a laundry list of items that the ultra-wealthy are concerned about – everything from the expected comeback of inflation to a world where geopolitical black swans seem to be growing more common.

Here’s why those building and protecting wealth are rightly concerned about such events:

Geopolitical black swans and the S&P 500

But the wealth landscape is not all just about billionaires and massive companies – it is changing in other interesting ways as well. For example, the definition of wealth itself is taking on a new meaning, with millennials leading a charge towards sustainable investing rather than being entirely focused on monetary return.

How will the wealth landscape look a decade from now?

Interesting Facts:

4. Eastern Promises

The economic rise of China has been a compelling story for decades.

Up until recently, we’ve only been able to get a preview of what the Eastern superpower is capable of – and in the coming years, these promises will come to fruition at a scale that will still be baffling to many.

Understandably, the scope of China’s population and economy can still be quite difficult to put into perspective.

The following map may help, as it combines both elements together to show that China has countless cities each with a higher economic productivity than entire countries.

China cities vs. country GDPs

In fact, China has over 100 cities with more than 1,000,000 inhabitants. These cities, many of which fly below the radar on the global stage, each have impressive economies – whether they are built upon factories, natural resource production, or the information economy.

As one impressive example, the Yangtze River Delta – a single region which contains Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Nantong, Ningbo, Nanjing, and Changzhou – has a GDP (PPP) of $2.6 trillion, which is more than Italy.

Interesting Facts:

Don’t forget: our new book covers
all of these eight themes in detail:

5. Accelerating Technological Progress

As we’ve already seen, there are many facets of change that will impact our shared future.

But here’s the kicker: when it comes to technological progress, the rate of change itself is actually getting faster and faster. Each year brings more technological advancements than the last, and once the exponential “hockey stick” kicks into overdrive, innovations could happen at a blindsiding pace.

This could be described as a function of Moore’s Law, and the law of accelerating returns is also something that futurists like Ray Kurzweil have talked about for decades.

Interestingly, there is another offshoot of accelerating change that applies more to the business and economic world. Not only is the speed of change getting faster, but for various reasons, markets are able to adopt new technologies faster:

The accelerating rate of technology adoption

New products can achieve millions of users in just months, and the game Pokémon Go serves as an interesting case study of this potential. The game amassed 50 million users in just 19 days, which is a blink of an eye in comparison to automobiles (62 years), the telephone (50 years), or credit cards (28 years).

As new technologies are created at a faster and faster pace – and as they are adopted at record speeds by markets – it’s fair to say that future could be coming at a breakneck speed.

Interesting Facts:
Future tech facts

6. The Green Revolution

It’s no secret that our civilization is in the middle of a seismic shift to more sustainable energy sources.

But to fully appreciate the significance of this change, you need to look at the big picture of energy over time. Below is a chart of U.S. energy consumption from 1776 until today, showing that the energy we use to power development is not permanent or static throughout history.

Energy Use Since 1776

And with the speed at which technology now moves, expect our energy infrastructure and delivery systems to evolve at an even more blistering pace than we’ve experienced before.

Interesting Facts:

7. Shifting Human Geography

Global demographics are always shifting, but the population tidal wave in the coming decades will completely reshape the global economy.

In Western countries and China, populations will stabilize due to fertility rates and demographic makeups. Meanwhile, on the African continent and across the rest of Asia, booming populations combined with rapid urbanization will translate into the growth of megacities, holding upwards of 50 million people.

By the end of the 21st century, this animation shows that Africa alone could contain at least 13 megacities that are bigger than New York:

Megacities demographic animation

By this time, it’s projected that North America, Europe, South America, and China will combine to hold zero of the world’s 20 most populous cities. What other game-changing shifts to human geography will occur during this stretch?

Interesting Facts:

8. The Trade Paradox

By definition, a consensual and rational trade between two parties is one that makes both parties better off.

Based on this microeconomic principle, and also on the consensus by economists that free trade is ultimately beneficial, countries around the world have consistently been working to remove trade barriers since World War II with great success.

But nothing is ever straightforward, and these long-held truths are now being challenged in both societal and political contexts. We now seem to be trapped in a trade paradox in which politicians give lip service to free trade, but often take action in the opposite direction.

To get a sense of how important trade can be between two nations, we previously documented the ongoing relationship between the U.S. and Canada, in which each country is the best customer of the other:

USA/CAN Trade Relationship

With the recent USMCA agreement, the two countries seem to have sorted their differences for now – but the trade paradox will continue to be an ongoing theme in economics and investing at a global level for many years to come, especially as the trade war against China rages on.

Points to Consider:

How You Can Visualize Change

The forces behind change are not always evident to the naked eye, but we believe that by fusing data, art, and storytelling together that we can create powerful context on the trends shaping our future.

If you enjoyed our summary above, you can explore these ideas further with our book “Visualizing Change”, which offers 256 pages of infographics, data visualizations, and charts on the future direction of the global economy and technology.

Get your copy of Visualizing Change today

Our book makes a great holiday gift. Get it on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca, or even customize a bulk order with your logo

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Visualizing the World’s Top Social Media and Messaging Apps

From Twitter to TikTok, this infographic compares the universe of social media and messaging platforms by number of monthly active users.

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The Social Media Universe in 2022

For a time, life in the social media universe was mostly uneventful. Consider these spicy (at the time) headlines:

In hindsight, the years leading up to 2016 were downright sleepy in comparison with what would follow. Donald Trump’s meteoric, tweet-powered rise to the presidency. The Cambridge Analytica scandal. Congressional hearings on privacy and bias. TikTok at the center of souring U.S.–China relations. Each new day brought a fresh wave of controversy the shores of once infallible social media platforms.

Today, the honeymoon phase is long over and the messiness of running a global social platform is now on full display. Nowhere is this more evident than Twitter during the current Elon Musk transitional period—but more details on that later.

For now, let’s explore the social media universe in 2022.

Mapping the Social Media and Messaging Universe

In 2022, the social universe is looking more crowded than in previous years.

The scale of Meta’s platforms still dominate thanks to their global reach, but there are a number of smaller networks fighting for market share. Here’s a look at popular platforms, organized from largest to smallest active userbase:

Visualisation showing the largest social media platforms by monthly active users

Meanwhile, here are the top 10 social media and messaging platforms by publicly-available monthly active users:

RankPlatform NameParent CompanyPrimary FunctionMonthly Active Users
#1FacebookMeta PlatformsSocial network2.9 billion
#2YouTubeAlphabetVideo content2.3 billion
#3WhatsAppMeta PlatformsMessaging2.0 billion
#4MessengerMeta PlatformsMessaging1.3 billion
#5InstagramMeta PlatformsVideo content1.2 billion
#6WeChat TencentMessaging1.2 billion
#7TikTokByteDanceVideo content732 million
#8Telegramn/aMessaging700 million
#9DouyinByteDanceVideo content600 million
#10QQTencentMessaging 595 million

YouTube is the only true competition for Meta’s scale and reach. Alphabet’s video content hub with social features boasts more than two billion monthly active users. YouTube’s embrace of the creator economy is nudging the platform further into pure social media territory with the introduction of “handles”.

As seen in the visualization above, China has its own ecosystem of large social and messaging platforms—the largest of these being WeChat.

The only platform in the top 20 that is not based in either the U.S. or China is the privacy-focused messaging app, Telegram. The Dubai-based company has a unique backstory. It was created after the founders of Russian social network VK left the country after resisting government pressure to release data on the social network’s users in Ukraine.

Today, there are also a number of smaller, special interest platforms. OnlyFans, for example, is focused on adult content creators. Parler and Truth Social appeal to users who want fewer constraints on the content they post and consume. BeReal aims to create more authentic moments by prompting users to post a photo at a random time each day.

Below, we dig into a few of these platforms into more depth.

zuckerberg meta 2022

Big Trouble in Little Metaverse

Having a figurehead CEO is a double-edged sword. When things are going well, the market rallies around the successful leader. Case in point, Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2010. Even as recently as 2016, Glassdoor named the Facebook founder the “most admired tech CEO”.

On the flip side, when the tide turns, it turns fast. After a series of controversies, Zuckerberg took a multi-billion-dollar gamble by renaming his entire company Meta and pivoting its focus to the burgeoning idea of a metaverse. Meta’s New Horizons platform is rumored to have plateaued at about 200,000 active users, which is underwhelming for a company that still reaches a sizable slice of humanity with its other services.

Part of Meta’s near-term success hinges on VR headsets being a hot gift this holiday season. Meta’s cheapest headset is $400, which could be a tough sell in today’s economic environment.

Chart showing falling consumer sentiment in the united states in 2022

Of course, it’s too early to know whether Zuckerberg’s gamble will pay off. As always, all is forgiven once a business unit takes off and becomes profitable.

elon musk twitter 2022

Microblogging with Macro Expectations

Twitter has a complicated history.

The company was launched in the shadow of Facebook’s massive growth, and was saddled with expectations that were tough to meet. Although Twitter has an engaged and influential audience, it hasn’t managed to monetize them at the level of Meta’s platforms (for better or worse). The introduction of Twitter Blue in 2021 did not resonate with users at the scale the company hoped, and “fleets” were essentially written off as a failed experiment.

In addition, Twitter is a magnet for criticism and debate around free speech, in part because of its central place in political discourse.

These issues are directly related to the company’s recent sale to Elon Musk. At the time of this article, Twitter finds itself in the midst of a painful, and very public, internal restructuring.

If reports of an exodus of talent and advertising dollars are to be believed, then the future of one of world’s most influential social media platforms could be at risk.

social media TikTok Douyin 2022

TikTok

Social media has always been dominated by Facebook and its related apps. When a new challenger came along, Facebook either acquired it (Instagram, WhatsApp), or “acquired” their features (Snapchat). TikTok is the first challenger to keep its momentum and growth, even as Instagram rolled out very similar features.

TikTok is also a rare case of a Chinese tech product crossing over into Western markets. The ascendancy of TikTok was not without controversy though. Suspicion over Chinese access to user data continues to be an issue both in the U.S., and in other large markets around the world. TikTok has been banned in India since 2020.

Despite these headwinds, TikTok remains wildly popular. The short-form video platform was the number one downloaded app on the planet, and it remains a favorite of the all-important Gen Z demographic.

nextdoor neighbors citizen 2022

We Shall Surveil

In recent years, neighborhood-based social networks have sprung up and gained traction. NextDoor used physical letters sent to adjacent addresses to supercharge its growth, while Neighbors piggybacked off the popularity of Ring’s doorbell cameras. Although members post about more benign topics such as lost cats and where to find a good plumber, crime is an increasingly common theme as well.

Apps like Neighbors and Citizen have a more overt focus on crime and safety. While the growth of these apps reflects an obvious interest preventing crime, critics point out that the ubiquity of personal surveillance equipment and forums built purely around public safety promote a culture of suspicion in communities.

This type of social network is still quite new, so it remains to be seen if they remain niche communities, or grow into something bigger.

Chaos and Opportunity

It was Sun Tzu who famously said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”.

This is the risk and opportunity in the social media universe today. With their massive networks and high switching costs (e.g. personalization, library of existing posts), the largest platforms have created moats that make life hard for upstart brands looking to replace established platforms. On the other hand, controversy on platforms like Twitter and Facebook may cause some users to consider new options.

The multi-billion-dollar question—is dissatisfaction with major platforms temporary, or will emerging networks like Mastodon or BeReal hit critical mass and become new staples for people connecting online. Time will tell.

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Visualized: FTX’s Leaked Balance Sheet

As Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange FTX files for bankruptcy, this graphic visualizes FTX’s balance sheet leaked by the Financial Times.

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Visualizing FTX’s Balance Sheet Before Bankruptcy

In a difficult year for the crypto space that has been full of hacks, failing funds, and decentralized stablecoins going to zero, nothing has compared to FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) rapid implosion.

After an astronomical rise in the crypto space over the past three years, crypto exchange FTX and its founder and CEO SBF have come crashing back down to earth, largely unraveled by their misuse of customer funds and illicit relationship with trading firm Alameda Research.

This graphic visualizes FTX’s leaked balance sheet dated to November 10th, and published by the Financial Times on November 12th. The spreadsheet shows nearly $9 billion in liabilities and not nearly enough illiquid cryptocurrency assets to cover the hole.

How did FTX wind up in this position?

How FTX’s Bankruptcy Unfolded

FTX’s eventual bankruptcy was sparked by a report on November 2nd by CoinDesk citing Alameda Research’s balance sheet. The article reported Alameda’s assets to be $14.6 billion, including $3.66 billion worth of unlocked FTT and $2.16 billion of FTT collateral.

With more than one-third of Alameda’s assets tied up in FTX’s exchange token FTT (including loans backed by the token), eyebrows were raised among the crypto community.

Four days later on November 6th, Alameda Research’s CEO, Caroline Ellison, and Sam Bankman-Fried addressed the CoinDesk story as unfounded rumors. However, on the same day, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (CZ) announced that Binance had decided to liquidate all remaining FTT on their books, kicking off a -7.6% decline in the FTT token on the day.

Back and Forth with Binance’s CZ

While Ellison publicly offered to buy CZ’s FTT directly “over the counter” to avoid further price declines and SBF claimed in a now-deleted tweet that “FTX is fine. Assets are fine.”, FTX users were withdrawing their funds from the exchange.

Less than 24 hours later on November 7th, both SBF and CZ tweeted that Binance had signed a non-binding letter of intent for the acquisition of FTX, pending due diligence.

The next day, the acquisition fell apart as Binance cited corporate due diligence, leaving SBF to face a multi-directional liquidity crunch of users withdrawing funds and rapidly declining token prices that made up large amounts of FTX and Alameda’s assets and collateral for loans.

FTX’s Liabilities and Largely Illiquid Assets

In the final days before declaring bankruptcy, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried attempted a final fundraising in order restore stability while billions in user funds were being withdrawn from his exchange.

The balance sheet he sent around to prospective investors was leaked by the Financial Times, and reveals the exchange had nearly $9 billion in liabilities while only having just over $1 billion in liquid assets. Alongside the liquid assets were $5.4 billion in assets labeled as “less liquid” and $3.2 billion labeled as “illiquid”.

When examining the assets listed, FTX’s accounting appears to be poorly done at best, and fraudulently deceptive at worst.

Of those “less liquid” assets, many of the largest sums were in assets like FTX’s own exchange token and cryptocurrencies of the Solana ecosystem, which were heavily supported by FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. On top of this, for many of these coins the liquidity simply wouldn’t have been there if FTX had attempted to redeem these cryptocurrencies for U.S. dollars or stablecoin equivalents.

While the liquid and less liquid assets on the balance sheet amounted to $6.3 billion (still not enough to equal the $8.9 billion in liabilities), many of these “less liquid” assets may as well have been completely illiquid.

Relationship with Alameda Research

When looking at FTX’s financials in isolation, it’s impossible to understand how one of crypto’s largest exchanges ended up with such a lopsided and illiquid balance sheet. Many of the still unfolding details lie in the exchange’s relationship with SBF’s previous venture that he founded, trading firm Alameda Research.

Founded by SBF in 2017, Alameda Research primarily operated as a delta-neutral (a term that describes trading strategies like market making and arbitrage that attempt to avoid taking directional risk) trading firm. In the summer of 2021, SBF stepped down from Alameda Research to focus on FTX, however his influence and connection with the firm was still deeply ingrained.

A report from the Wall Street Journal cites how Alameda was able to amass crypto tokens ahead of their announced public FTX listings, which were often catalysts in price surges. Alongside this, a Reuters story has revealed how SBF secretly moved $10 billion in funds to Alameda, using a bookkeeping “back door” to avoid internal scrutiny at FTX.

While SBF responded to the Reuters story by saying they “had confusing internal labeling and misread it,” there are few doubts that this murky relationship between Alameda Research and FTX was a fatal one for the former billionaire’s empire.

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