The global reach of Starbucks & McDonalds

August 28th, 2006

Via Marginal Revolution is this neat map of Starbucks and McDonalds’ global reach..

The thing does raise a bit of a rant in me. The chart shows McDonalds as having global sales of $41 billion, which is compared to the GDP of Afghanistan ($21 billion). The message from this is meant to be ‘Wow, McDonalds is twice as big as Afghanistan’. The only problem is that it’s just not true!

GDP is measured in ‘value added’ terms. Only new economic activity is counted. In particular, the cost of inputs (such as burgers, buns and fries) is not counted. So for a company like McDonalds it’s ‘GDP’ is actually equal to its profit on goods sold plus wages and salaries paid to employees, which would be far less than their total sales.

What’s my point? My point is that the world economy is almost incomprehensibly huge, and that even gigantic, omni-present companies such as McDonalds are only a tiny, tiny part of it. Misleading comparisons, such as comparing total sales revenue to GDP figures, takes away some of that sense of scale.

(As an aside, you can calculate a very rough ‘sales’ figure for an economy, using the input-output tables that are occasionally published in the National Accounts. In 2001-02, the most recent figures, Australia had a GDP of $890 billion, but had total supplies (‘sales’) of $2,457 billion.)