Assessing political stability and comparing levels of economic development has always been a tricky business. Take, for example, the use of gross domestic product as a proxy for levels of economic prosperity. Everyone uses it—World Bank programs cite it, academics use it, and so on. But no one ever really seems truly happy with it. And with good reason. As a measure of economic development, GDP leaves a lot out. But if we want to look at levels of economic development, we really don’t have any good alternatives…or do we?
Last week NPR carried a story from the Africa correspondent for the Economist, Jonathan Ledgard. (You can listen to the segment on the Day to Day website). Ledgard argues that Coca Cola sales are a key indicator of political and economic stability across the African continent. Why? Well, Coke is widely available, relatively cheap, and almost always produced locally. When Coke runs out, as in the case of Somalia, Eritrea, or Kenya, a crisis is usually brewing. According to Legdard, Coke is
a pan-African product. It’s found in almost every African country… Even in the sort-of sub-villages, some guy on a bicycle will be taking five or six cases of Coke to a shack in the Congolese jungle or in the backwaters of Ethiopia. And it’s kind of amazing that that product can penetrate that far… A drop in the sales of Coke will be reflected in political, cultural, ethnic disturbances.
So it looks like we can add the Coca Cola index of political stability to the Economist’s Big Mac Index, which measures purchasing power parity, and Thomas Friedman’s Golden Arches theory—a restatement of Kant’s liberal peace—which asserts that no two countries with McDonald’s have ever gone to war with one another…almost true, except for the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and the recent war between Israel and Lebanon.
So does globalization mean peace and prosperity? I’m not sure, but at least you can have a Big Mac and a Coke with that.