Thursday, January 05, 2006

Arvind Virmani and “National Power Potential”


I’m starting to think about elements of an aggregate measure of soft power—which may as well be called “squishy power” because of the difficulty people have in measuring it.

How can you measure reputation, brand, influence? This is a fairly simple task with something like consumer goods: total sales are an excellent indicator of both a product’s quality and how consumers perceive its manufacturer.

Creative properties are an exception to this rule; sales of movie tickets indicate everything about an individual movie’s influence but nothing about the reputation of its manufacturer, a movie studio. No one says to themselves, “Let’s see this movie by Fox, the last Fox movie we saw was excellent!” That privilege is reserved to the Steven Spielbergs and Robert DeNiros of the world, whose brands are substantially more powerful than their “employers.”

Measuring the soft power of nations is a fearsomely complex task, though, and opinions vary on how best to approach the task.

Opinion polls are one starting point, and Zogby as well as other organizations poll internationally to find out what everyone thinks of everyone else. But polling is overly sensitive to how people feel that day, and can be overly affected by day-to-day news events: a reckless U.S. fighter pilot accidentally cuts a gondola cable in Italy, killing Italian citizens and causing an otherwise reliable ally to think badly of the U.S. as a whole.

I would start measuring soft power by first finding good measures of hard power. Most observers would agree that soft power is at least partly a function of hard power; a country’s level of economic development, technological achievement and military prowess are at least part of why others might want to emulate it.

As part of my campaign to lend structure to Beacon in 2006, I’ll be groping around ways to measure soft power on Thursdays, which I’m resisting calling “theoretical Thursdays.” Today I’ll point to a paper that Jeff Ubois pointed me toward: The Economic Basis of Global Power: VIP, a Simple Measure of National Power Potential, by Arvind Virmani, formerly of the India Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.

Virmani proposes a scheme for measuring national power potential—whether a country is or may become a global or regional power—by simply multiplying its GDP by its per-capita GDP, and measuring the results as a percentage against the benchmark (100%) U.S. numbers. That produces this list:

1. United States (100%)
2. Japan (27%)
3. China (25%)
4. Germany (17%)
5. France (12%)
6. United Kingdom (12%)
7. Italy (11%)
8. India (8.5%)
9. Canada (7.8%)
10. Russia (6.5%)
11. Spain (6.4%)
12. Brazil (5.8%)
13. Korea (5.5%)
14. Australia (4.7%)

Virmani projects that these numbers will change dramatically as big population increases and relatively small increases in per-capita GDP combine to vault first China and then India into the ranks of global powers, while European rankings will sink as their populations sag and because they have essentially hit a ceiling in per-capita GDP.

It’s an interesting scheme and I haven’t had time to read Virmani’s entire paper, which you can download from here, but there’s also an excellent summary on a Web discussion board here. I think any measurement of soft power would have to start as an overlay on this sort of simple calculation of hard power—but what do you think? Feel free to chime in.

1 comment:

Karl said...

Hello. It's nice to see your comment on Virmani. The following paper New Thinking in Measuring National Power may interest you, it emphasizes efforts by the Indian National Security Council Secretariat to quantify national power:
You may also like the resource page that contains many interesting links on the subject:

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