Mar 262012

Scale matters, especially when two countries or regions are going to be compared. A case in point is depicted on this Mexican airmail stamp from 1977 issued to celebrate the resumption of diplomatic relations between Mexico and Spain. Mexico had broken off relations with Spain in 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War when Francisco Franco gained control. Following that war, more than 30,000 Spaniards sought refuge in Mexico, giving a significant boost to the country’s entrepreneurs. It took until 28 March 1977 for diplomatic relations between Mexico and Spain to be restored.

The outline maps on the stamp show Mexico and Spain as having approximately the same area. Presumably this was to ensure that the stamp would be seen as politically-correct, even if not spatially-correct, and would make the two countries look like equal partners. In real life, or on any equal-area map projection,  Mexico (almost 2 million square kilometers) is about four times as large as Spain (close to 50,000  square kilometers).

If the maps were drawn proportional to population, then Mexico would be more than twice as large, since its population of about 112 million (2010) is more than double that of Spain (48 million in the same year). This difference is widening with the years, since Spain’s population growth rate has fallen to about 0.6%/year, while Mexico’s (which has also fallen) remains significantly higher at about 1.1%/year.

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