Tuesday, August 7, 2012

You Didn't Earn That

As of 8/7/2012, 1:40 AM UTC-5 (EST), here are the top 10 countries by Olympic medals earned in London:

1. China - 64
2. USA - 63
3. Russia - 42
4. UK - 40
5. Japan - 28
6. France - 26
7. South Korea - 22
8. Germany - 22
9. Australia - 22
10. Italy - 17

Here are the top 10 countries by GDP based on the exchange rate with the US dollar:

1. USA - 14.5 trillion
2. China - 5.7 trillion
3. Japan - 5.4 trillion
4. Germany - 3.3 trillion
5. France - 2.6 trillion
6. UK - 2.3 trillion
7. Brazil - 2 trillion
8. Italy - 2 trillion
9. Russia - 1.8 trillion
10. India - 1.7 trillion

It's kind of uncanny isn't it? Olympic prognosticators, such as Goldman-Sachs use a formula to predict how many medals each country's athletes will win at the Olympic games. And many of them have very good accuracy, with a successful prediction rate of about 95%.

They use a combination of factors, the most common being population, total GDP, per capita GDP, sports culture, and host country status.

Lately, President Obama has been catching a lot of flak for saying "if you've got a business, you didn't build that" ("that" most likely being the roads and bridges in his previous sentence, but it was poor oratory at the very least). Basically he meant to say that nobody makes it on their own.

Even though the Olympics are all about athletic prowess at the individual level (although sometimes grouped into teams of varying numbers), the fact that some simple economic and population statistics can predict with astonishing accuracy gives credence to such a notion that the country also deserves some credit.

That's not to diminish the success of the individual. Collectively, we and our ancestors laid the groundwork for them to have the opportunity to become the world's best athletes. But their triumph is theirs alone. We didn't train hours upon hours, day after day, year after year. We all drive on the same roads but not all of us own businesses.

 There is collective success and then there is individual success. Collectively, we can be proud of how great our country is. But individually, none of us can take credit for that achievement. What we can take achievement for are the things that we, as individuals, had a part in. And although no man is an island all alone, great successes are usually made up of an archipelago with one or two big islands at its core.


  1. I don't think President Obama claimed to take credit for those achievements though, so I don't see the comparison.

  2. Jamaica and Kenya are exceptional some how... What could be the reasoning for the 5% out of Goldman-Sachs's chart?