It’s the third-smallest country in the Middle East, covering a mere 11,610 square miles — 1/185th the size of its neighbor Saudi Arabia. It ranks 54th in the world in annual overall GDP, or gross domestic product — the total dollar value of all goods and services produced in a year’s time. It has been an independent state only since 1970.
But according to the latest, sometimes surprising figures from the International Monetary Fund, tiny, controversial Qatar, a thumb-like peninsula extending off the Saudi Arabian coast into the Persian Gulf, is the world’s wealthiest country.
The most productive (that is, the richest) countries in the world are measured in terms of their GDP — but not the overall figure. Instead, the best benchmark of a country’s prosperity is its per capita GDP calculated in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), a theoretical exchange rate based on what goods and services would cost in U.S. dollars.
Simply put, residents of the countries whose GDP has the highest PPP per capita have the most money. Qatar wins, at the equivalent $133,254 per person. In comparison, the figure for the U.S. is about half that, $65,061. Beyond that, jobs are guaranteed in Qatar, there is no income tax, and both health care and higher education are free.
What gives Qatar all this money? Primarily oil.
The discovery of oil and gas on the peninsula in 1939 transformed it from a sheikhdom whose economy was based mostly on fishing and pearl production into a rich and influential petroleum power. Today, it is one of the 15 countries that control most of the world’s oil, with the petroleum industry accounting for 60% of its GDP and 85% of its export earnings.
Realizing that the oil won’t flow forever, the Qatari government has also implemented programs to wean itself off its dependence on petroleum, attempting to develop a reputation as a major international educational center, among other diversification efforts. Tourism has also increased dramatically in recent years, and will grow still further in 2022, when the country hosts the FIFA World Cup. Qatar is investing a tremendous amount of money in building stadiums. Once completed, some of them will be among the most expensive in the world.