What Makes a Real Country?

In the study of international economics, one must always exclude unreal countries, as the lessons learned from them do not apply to real countries. But what makes a real country? Generally, size, population, and lack of dependence on finance, tourism, and natural resource rents, production, and exports are the leading factors under consideration. Not all countries can be tourist spots, offshore tax shelters, or oil kingdoms, and this applies doubly so to very large and populous countries.

The least real country on Earth is Qatar. Other unreal countries include Singapore, Luxembourg, Monaco, and Lichtenstein (not large enough territory), and, in a great exception, Saudi Arabia, despite its realistic size and population. Norway, despite its small population (smaller than that of Singapore) and high oil production per capita, is generally considered a real country as only a small fraction of its GDP is dependent on natural resource rents and its territory is of a reasonable size.

The most real country on Earth is China. It has the largest population and the second-largest land area of any country in the world and is by no means dependent on natural resource exports. India and the U.S. are also very real, as is Indonesia. Brazil is less real due to the fact half their exports are of primary industry, but it is still very much a real country.

Russia and Chile, despite their dependence on natural resource exports for maintaining the strength of their currencies, are also generally considered real countries due to their decent population and territory size and the vast majority of their economic activity not being related to natural resources.

Greece, despite its curiously high GDP per capita for its institutions, is also considered a real country due to the vast majority of its economic activity not being related to tourism.

Of the Four Asian Tigers, Singapore and Hong Kong are generally considered unreal countries due to the small size of their territories. Korea is universally considered to be real. Taiwan has over 20 million people, but it also has quite a small territory. As it is near the most real of the world’s countries, it is easy to see it as unreal, but if the Netherlands is to be counted as a real country, then why should Taiwan not be? Taiwan is not a tax shelter, nor is it particularly dependent on finance.

Some of the Caribbean islands have large tinges of unreality due to their strong reliance on finance and tourism, but as only one of these nations is first-world, it is difficult to see how they can be considered excessively unreal.

Switzerland is a half-real country. Its strong dependence on finance and small territory makes it difficult to consider it fully real.

Of all the countries in Africa, Equatorial Guinea, a small oil dictatorship, is by far the least real, with the Seychelles being the second-least real, due to its excessive dependence on tourism.

Despite their suspiciously strong dependence on primary industry, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada are generally considered pretty real, as primary industry forms only a small part of their economies.