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Visualizing the Most Miserable Countries in the World

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Presented by: Texas Precious Metals

Visualizing the Most Miserable Countries in the World

Visualizing the Most Miserable Countries in the World

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

Every year, the Cato Institute publishes a list of the world’s most “miserable countries” by using a simple economic formula to calculate the scores. Described as a Misery Index, the tally for each country can be found by adding the unemployment rate, inflation, and lending rate together, and then subtracting the change in real GDP per capita.

Disaster in Venezuela

According to the think tank, countries with misery scores over 20 are “ripe for reform”. If that’s true, then socialist Venezuela is way overdue.

The troubled nation finished with a misery score of 214.9, the highest marker in 2015 by far. Unfortunately, the number is not looking better for this year, as the IMF has projected that hyperinflation will top 720% by the end of 2016. For the average Venezuelan, that means that food staples and other necessities will be doubling in price every four months.

Hyperinflation has taken its toll on citizens already. Three years ago, one US dollar could buy four Venezuelan bolivars. Today, one dollar can buy more than 1,000 bolivars on the black market. If the inflation rate keeps accelerating, the situation could approach a similar trajectory to hyperinflation in Weimar Germany, where rates eventually catapulted to one trillion percent after six years.

While hyperinflation is certainly one of Venezuela’s biggest concerns, the nation has also been short on luck lately. The Zika virus has hit the country hard, and the oil crash has created political, economic, and social tensions in a nation that depends on oil exports to balance the budget. Three in four Venezuelans have fallen into poverty, and the country’s GDP is expected to contract 8% in 2016.

Venezuelans are now facing dire shortages for many necessities, including power. Droughts have caused mayhem on the country’s hydro reservoirs, making blackouts common and widespread. Food, medical supplies, and toilet paper are in short supply, and even beer production has been shut down.

Key Stats:

  • Approval Rating of Nicolas Maduro: 26.8%
  • People in poverty: 76%
  • Oil exports, as a percent of total revenue: 96%
  • Homicides per capita: 2nd highest in world
  • Good shortages: Power, medical supplies, food, toilet paper, beer
  • Fiscal deficit: 20% of GDP

Recent measures taken to dampen the crisis in Venezuela have been bold.

The government has moved entire time zones while reducing the work week of public sector workers to try and work around power deficiencies. Meanwhile, minimum wage earners have been given a 30% raise to keep up with inflation.

However, the crisis may be coming to a head. A recent survey shows that 87% of Venezuelans do not have enough money to purchase enough food to meet their needs, and people are getting restless.

In early May, the opposition party submitted a list 1.85 million signatures to the electoral commission to seek a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. Days after the submission, the leader of an opposition party was found dead after being shot in the head.

Unless the country gets ruled with an iron fist, the level of misery can only reach a certain point before the people take decisive action.

About the Money Project

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

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The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies

Here are the reserve currencies that the world’s central banks hold onto for a rainy day.

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The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies

When we think of network effects, we’re usually thinking of them in the context of technology and Metcalfe’s Law.

Metcalfe’s Law states that the more users that a network has, the more valuable it is to those users. It’s a powerful idea that is exploited by companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb, or Uber — all companies that provide a more beneficial service as their networks gain more nodes.

But network effects don’t apply just to technology and related fields.

In the financial sector, for example, stock exchanges grow in utility when they have more buyers, sellers, and volume. Likewise, in international finance, a currency can become increasingly entrenched when it’s accepted, used, and trusted all over the world.

What’s a Reserve Currency?

Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down foreign reserves held by countries — but what is a reserve currency, anyways?

In essence, reserve currencies (i.e. U.S. dollar, pound sterling, euro, etc.) are held on to by central banks for the following major reasons:

  • To maintain a stable exchange rate for the domestic currency
  • To ensure liquidity in the case of an economic or political crisis
  • To provide confidence to international buyers and foreign investors
  • To fulfill international obligations, such as paying down debt
  • To diversify central bank portfolios, reducing overall risk

Not surprisingly, central banks benefit the most from stockpiling widely-held reserve currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro.

Because these currencies are accepted almost everywhere, they provide third-parties with extra confidence and perceived liquidity. This is a network effect that snowballs from the growing use of a particular reserve currency over others.

Reserve Currencies Over Time

Here is how the usage of reserve currencies has evolved over the last 15 years:

Currency composition of official foreign exchange reserves (2004-2019)
🇺🇸 U.S. Dollar 🇪🇺 Euro🇯🇵 Japanese Yen🇬🇧 Pound Sterling 🌐 Other
200465.5%24.7%4.3%3.5%2.0%
200962.1%27.7%2.9%4.3%3.0%
201465.1%21.2%3.5%3.7%6.5%
201961.8%20.2%5.3%4.5%8.2%

Over this timeframe, there have been small ups and downs in most reserve currencies.

Today, the U.S. dollar is the world’s most powerful reserve currency, making up over 61% of foreign reserves. The dollar gets an extensive network effect from its use abroad, and this translates into several advantages for the multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy.

The euro, yen, and pound sterling are the other mainstay reserve currencies, adding up to roughly 30% of foreign reserves.

Finally, the most peculiar data series above is “Other”, which grew from 2.0% to 8.4% of worldwide foreign reserves over the last 15 years. This bucket includes the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Swiss franc, and the Chinese renminbi.

Accepted Everywhere?

There have been rumblings in the media for decades now about the rise of the Chinese renminbi as a potential new challenger on the reserve currency front.

While there are still big structural problems that will prevent this from happening as fast as some may expect, the currency is still on the rise internationally.

What will the composition of global foreign reserves look like in another 15 years?

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Why Gold is Money: A Periodic Perspective

Gold has been used as money for millennia. People often attribute this to beauty, but there are basic physical properties for why gold is money.

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Why Gold is Money

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously called gold a “barbarous relic”, suggesting that its usefulness as money is an artifact of the past. In an era filled with cashless transactions and hundreds of cryptocurrencies, this statement seems truer today than in Keynes’ time.

However, gold also possesses elemental properties that has made it an ideal metal for money throughout history.

Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer from Columbia University, broke down the periodic table to show why gold has been used as a monetary metal for thousands of years.

The Periodic Table

The periodic table organizes 118 elements in rows by increasing atomic number (periods) and columns (groups) with similar electron configurations.

Just as in today’s animation, let’s apply the process of elimination to the periodic table to see why gold is money:

  • Gases and Liquids
    Noble gases (such as argon and helium), as well as elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine and chlorine are gaseous at room temperature and standard pressure. Meanwhile, mercury and bromine are liquids. As a form of money, these are implausible and impractical.
  • Lanthanides and Actinides
    Next, lanthanides and actinides are both generally elements that can decay and become radioactive. If you were to carry these around in your pocket they could irradiate or poison you.
  • Alkali and Alkaline-Earth Metals
    Alkali and alkaline earth metals are located on the left-hand side of the periodic table, and are highly reactive at standard pressure and room temperature. Some can even burst into flames.
  • Transition, Post Transition Metals, and Metalloids
    There are about 30 elements that are solid, nonflammable, and nontoxic. For an element to be used as money it needs to be rare, but not too rare. Nickel and copper, for example, are found throughout the Earth’s crust in relative abundance.
  • Super Rare and Synthetic Elements
    Osmium only exists in the Earth’s crust from meteorites. Meanwhile, synthetic elements such as rutherfordium and nihonium must be created in a laboratory.

Once the above elements are eliminated, there are only five precious metals left: platinum, palladium, rhodium, silver and gold. People have used silver as money, but it tarnishes over time. Rhodium and palladium are more recent discoveries, with limited historical uses.

Platinum and gold are the remaining elements. Platinum’s extremely high melting point would require a furnace of the Gods to melt back in ancient times, making it impractical. This leaves us with gold. It melts at a lower temperature and is malleable, making it easy to work with.

Gold as Money

Gold does not dissipate into the atmosphere, it does not burst into flames, and it does not poison or irradiate the holder. It is rare enough to make it difficult to overproduce and malleable to mint into coins, bars, and bricks. Civilizations have consistently used gold as a material of value.

Perhaps modern societies would be well-served by looking at the properties of gold, to see why it has served as money for millennia, especially when someone’s wealth could disappear in a click.

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