Turkey feels rich. It feels more developed than most places we’ve been this year. We say that because:
- the roads we drive on are good, and the hotels they lead us to are good quality (if expensive).
- there are fewer small children, and they’re more likely to have their dads looking after them.
- when our mini-van to Sumela monastery was pulled over by cops the driver couldn’t bribe his way out of having the wrong license.
- there are lots of cats and dogs on the streets, but they look healthy and cared for.
- people seem well dressed, like they’ve put time and effort into what they’re wearing.
- the informal economy feels small: the taxis we take are marked; the stuff we buy is from shops, not the street (although apparently the number of people who dodge income tax is egregious).
We’ve often found these kinds of social markers the clearest indicators of development like when we we arrived in Argentina, got up into Colombia’s highlands or to Shanghai and Beijing. But they’re anecdotal, so I’ve gone searching to see how Turkey’s riches really compare to the other places we’ve been.
Riches in context
Our intuitions are about right. Turkey’s PPP per capita (~$18k) slots it in between Iran (~$16k) and Argentina (~$20k). Venezuela is actually closest, just a couple of hundred dollars per person off Turkey. But I’m going to discount that as some kind of communist voodo. When we visited, Venezuela’s economy was going completely to pieces.
The problem with these kinds of per capita numbers, though, is they gloss over disparities within countries, and in Turkey these are big. In fact regional inequality in Turkey is amongst the highest in the OECD. This actually matches our observations too. It wasn’t until we got to some of the richer cities (Trabzon for starters) that we started seeing signs of richness. Since we’ve been through Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul and experienced the same thing.
All this has come as a bit of a surprise. We hadn’t conceived of Turkey as especially rich. Probably our expectations were just out of date. Turkey’s economy, especially the ‘Anatolian tigers‘, have been smashing it. Turkey just about went point for point in GDP growth with China around 2009-11, although it has dropped off the pace a little since.