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Intangible wealth

World Bank economists asked why some countries were rich and others were poor. At first they thought the answer was natural resources and infrastructure - the TANGIBLES.

But in-depth analysis revealed that these TANGIBLES account for only a small part of a nation’s wealth. Their recently released report shows -


US natural resources valued at $14,752 per person

UK natural resources valued at $7,167 per person

US urban land and produced capital valued at $79,851 per person

UK urban land and produced capital valued at $55,239 per person

WB research revealed that it is INTANGIBLE wealth that makes people prosperous and helps them to create wealth. Their estimates of INTANGIBLE wealth -


US intangible wealth per person - $418,009

UK intangible wealth per person - $346,347

The Mexican or Pakistani citizen (to name two examples) has access to far less intangible wealth –

Mexico intangible wealth per person - $34,420

Pakistan intangible wealth per person - $5,529

What is this intangible wealth according to the World Bank?


The rule of law - an honest and efficient judicial system

Protected and documented property rights

Effective, responsive, incorruptible government


People trusting each other

This site tries to describe those intangible. . .and tangible riches. . .

The WB pdf can be obtained online using the search words World Bank and "Where is the Wealth of Nations?"

A curious personal experience made these intangibles more real.

Some years ago I moved to rural Oregon and inherited the services of a Mexican gardener. One warm day I brought out cold drinks for him and his crew. Jose was planning to visit Mexico, and we talked of the beauty of the Pacific coast where he was going. I asked if he had considered retiring to Mexico, and saw a look of horror cross his face. No, never, he answered.

Why? I asked.

Corruption, he said.

When Jose (I've changed his name) and his crew became too expensive for me, I hired Roger Currier, who could repair anything that was broken. Roger spent his spare time serving as a volunteer on the City Council where he was quite a firebrand in defending the rights of Americans who lacked the clout of realtors and developers. Jose continued to work for businesses in the area until one of his crew fell out of a tree. I later heard that Jose had not fulfilled his duties under the law to pay for workers' compensation.

One lesson I take from this is that societies with considerable intangible wealth also make big demands of their citizens.

Ron Bailey has more about the report in Reason .

This post has been edited.