Here is the paragraph that has one of the competing lists that Ross mentions in his post on Fareed Zakaria:
Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.
One of these facts struck me as surprising. I was pretty sure that the biggest oil refinery in the world has not been in the US for some time. I looked into it, and I don’t think it was. Then I started to look more of these facts. In about an hour on Google, I found that US did not top the list by 1998 or earlier in lots of these categories.
Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980.
Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997.
Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986.
Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998.
I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold. Hollywood remains much, much larger than Bollywood in 2008 in terms of revenues (which seems like it would be the default metric for “bigger”). So it’s hard to find the metric by which Hollywood was bigger ten years ago, but has now been overtaken by Bollywood.
This was using quick-and-dirty sources like Wikipedia, so somebody please tell me if I’m wrong. But this seems crazy – surely the guy has fact-checkers for something this high-profile?
And doesn’t it seem kind of weird to produce a list like this and say that ten years ago the US “would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories”? [itlaics added] I mean, if you made the list, wouldn’t have you checked to make sure it was true for every category?
Can anybody expert on any of these topics let me know where I’m wrong?