Tip O’Neill once said “all politics is local.”
Though the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987 used it to criticize a challenger in Massachusetts who funded his campaign with out-of-state money, the phrase has come to mean that local government impacts citizens more than top-down decisions made by lawmakers a thousand miles away.
Whether or not federal-level policies are more or less important than what happens at the city council can be debated, but it’s been argued as far back as ancient Greece that the smaller the governed population, the easier it is to keep a majority of governed citizens happy — or at least content enough to keep them from committing large scale acts of civil unrest. (Civil unrest is one reason these are 29 countries the U.S. government doesn’t want you to visit.)
The reason: Citizens of smaller populations are more likely to be acquainted with each other and share similar values. The founders of the U.S. Constitution felt this, which is why the United States is a republic of smaller, self-governing states.
But smaller isn’t always better.
Small countries and territories might be easier to govern, and their citizens are perhaps more likely to be content, but countries with larger populations and greater land mass tend to have more global or regional economic and military muscle — China and the United States being the most obvious examples. (In terms of gross domestic product, or GDP, both are among the richest countries in the world.)
Larger countries may be more challenging to govern, and are more difficult to change even when the change is desired by a majority of their citizens, but these “macro” countries tend to have outsize regional or global influence relative to their “micro” neighbors. Politics might be local, but geopolitics isn’t.
To identify the 25 largest countries in the world by population, 24/7 Tempo analyzed data for 232 nations from World Population Prospects 2019, published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Information on current population, percentage of population change since 2010, and projected population by 2050 are U.N. estimates; land area was current as of the most recent U.N. land use computations in 2007.