2009 September 07 Monday
Satellite Night Pictures Measure Economic Growth

In some of the more primitive, corrupt, and despotic regions of the world accurate economic growth measures are hard to come by. Well, night time satellite pictures provide a rough measure of levels of economic development and economic growth.

To improve these estimates, Henderson, Storeygard, and Weil suggest combining measured income data with the changes observed in a country’s “night lights” as seen from outer space. Using U.S. Air Force weather satellite picture composites, they look at changes in a region’s light density over a 10-year period. “Consumption of nearly all goods in the evening requires lights,” they write. “As income rises, so does light usage per person, in both consumption activities and many investment activities.”

When the researchers applied the new methodology to countries with low-quality national income data, the new estimates were significantly different. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lights suggest a 2.4-percent annual growth rate in GDP, while official estimates suggest a negative 2.6-percent growth over the same time period. The Congo appears to be growing faster than official estimates suggest. At the other end, Myanmar has an official growth rate of 8.6 percent a year, but the lights data imply only a 3.4-percent annual growth rate.

At 3.4% the Myanmar (Burma) growth rate is still faster than you'd expect from listening to Western political commentary about how the military dictatorship in that country is driving it into the ground. Could faith in democracy as the only political system capable of overseeing economic growth blind commentators to the facts on the ground?

Congo: Where's the economic growth happening? In areas outside of the central government's control? Is resource extraction providing the money to fund local electric power generation plants? What's powering the plants? Oil? If it is oil then Peak Oil will reverse the current development. I'd ask the same question about electric power plant energy sources about other countries reported in this survey. Areas that haven't made the transition from oil to other energy sources for electric power generation will be especially hard hit by Peak Oil.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 September 07 08:09 AM  Chaotic Regions

Mercer said at September 7, 2009 5:47 PM:

As an amateur astronomer I find the high rating given to the most light polluted skies questionable. Even if you don't care about seeing the stars keep in mind that having bright lights on all night long is unnecessary and wastes energy.

Some people thinks it prevents crime but our skies were much darker fifty years ago and the crime rate was less. Motion activated lighting make criminal activity stand out more than constant bright lights at night.

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