WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Income inequality and political favoritism can be spotted from space, according to a new study reported in Live Science.
In countries with weak political systems and limited public education, the home regions of leaders are brighter ad night.
One famous example is the image of the Korean Peninsula from space, which clearly shows a huge dark swath in the north and lots of lights in the south.
Only a small glow from the North Korean capital city Pyongyang is visible while South Korea and China glow brightly against the darkness of the ocean.
The researchers used data on light intensity from Air Force weather satellites and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to track nighttime light intensity across the globe between 1992 and 2009.
They found regions where national leaders were born showed greater signs of economic favor, especially in the years after a coup or political takeover.
One prominent example was in the former country of Zaire during the reign of Mobuto Sese Seko. He ruled the country as a dictator between 1971 and 1997. While he was in power, his hometown of Gbadolite flourished.
“Mobuto built a huge palace complex costing millions of dollars, luxury guesthouses, an airport capable of handling Concords, and had the country’s best supply of water, electricity and medical services,” study researcher Paul Raschky, with Monash University in Australia.
Years of satellite data over what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo reveal Gbadolite as initially dark at night, getting brighter during Mobuto’s riegn and quickly fading again after his exile and death.
“Our results suggest that being the leader’s birthplace increases nighttime light intensity and regional GDP by around 4 and 1 percent, respectively,” Raschky said.
In the countries with the weakest political institutions, being the hometown of a leader sent nighttime lights soaring by 30 percent, reflecting an estimated 9 percent increase in GDP.
In Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa has been president since 2005; he was born in the rural Hambantota district. Its largest city is home to only 11,000 people, but since his election, the region has become home to a 35,000-seat cricket stadium and an international airport, with plans for an enormous port.
In developed countries with high standards of education, the difference is almost nonexistent.
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