With the election behind us, as we look to the 2021 UN World Food Systems Summit, let’s take a quick look at where we rank in the world in a variety of categories. The Economist has published its 2021 Pocket World in Figures and it is always fascinating.

The world population is 7.6 billion people. Agriculture is still the single biggest employer worldwide at 27%, but in the United States, agriculture only employs 1.3% of the population. Services employs 79% of the population.

The United States is still the world’s biggest economy. But China is closely behind the U.S. followed by Japan, Germany, and India. Then comes the UK, France, and Brazil.

The largest countries by population are China, India, and then the U.S. Our biggest city is New York, but it ranks only 11th in size behind Tokyo, Delhi, and Shanghai.

The United States has the most millionaires, but we rank only 13th on the Human Development Index. The Index is computed by the UN Development Program based on life expectancy, schooling, and income levels.

The fastest growing economies, based on annual percent increase in real GDP, tends to be in Africa along with China and India. Ethiopia is first with a 10% growth rate. Rwanda and Ghana are high on the list, as are Niger and Uganda. (Ethiopia may drop next year given the internal turmoil.)

There is a section devoted to trade. The biggest exporters are the EU (before Brexit) with the U.S. second, and China in third place.

When it comes to agriculture, China has the largest agriculture output followed by India and then the U.S. We are among the countries least dependent on agriculture as a percent of the GDP but are a major producer in most categories. China is first in the production of cereals, meat, fruits, and vegetables. We are second in the production of cereals and meat, fourth when it comes to fruit and not in the top 10 in the production of vegetables. 

Remember, according to USDA's Economic Research Service, we spend only 5.7% of disposable income on food at home. Even when we add in the spending on food away from home, Americans spend less than 10% of our disposable income on food. It is by far the lowest in the history of the world which drives our ability to spend on other consumer goods and services. 

Sticking with agriculture, we are 5th in the production of wheat, behind the EU, China, India, and Russia. We are first in the production of coarse grains followed by China, the EU, Brazil, and Argentina. We are third in the production of cotton and first in the production of major oilseeds, followed by Brazil.

We are first in total spending on research and development (all research) followed by China, Japan, and Germany.

Our capital markets, the NYSE and Nasdaq, remain the global leaders but there are a surprising number of other markets of significance. Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Euronext, and the London SE are all important.

A few other things just caught my eye:

  • We are only 6th in car production, behind China, Japan, Germany, India, and South Korea.
  • We have the most prisoners, the largest prison population.
  • China is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, followed by the U.S., India, Russia, and Japan.

Finally, the U.S. is no longer listed among those countries with the longest life expectancy. Last year, in the 2020 version of The Economist’s publication, we were ranked number 48 with a life expectancy of 80.4 years. This year we dropped off the list of the top 48 countries.

All just food for thought as we all think about the United States in a global context.  It is clearly a big, dynamic world. There are 193 member countries in the United Nations.   Next year, 2021, the UN will host a Food Systems Summit. It should be very fascinating.

Marshall Matz is Chairman at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. mmatz@ofwlaw.com