Kuwait is one of the world’s richest countries per capita. Its initial prosperity was founded almost completely on oil reserves, which, at an estimated 98 billion barrels, is roughly one-tenth of the world’s total. Over time, however, Kuwait used oil earnings to make large investments abroad. By 1990 the country earned more from foreign investment than from oil exports. The expenses of the Iraqi invasion and postwar reconstruction placed a heavy economic burden on the country, but by the mid-1990s Kuwait had resumed its preinvasion prosperity. Gross domestic product (GDP) for 2000 was $37.8 billion, giving Kuwait a per capita GDP of $19,040. The labor force totals 803,682 people, only about one-quarter of whom are Kuwaiti citizens.
Because the government owns the oil industry, it controls most of the economy—in all, about 75 percent of the GDP. Kuwait’s oil exports vary depending on internal needs (almost all of Kuwait’s energy is derived from oil), international demand and prices, and production quotas fixed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Kuwait is a member. OPEC’s quotas, however, are difficult to enforce, and Kuwait and other countries have been accused of violating them. In 1999 oil production was 737 million barrels. While efforts have been made to encourage local agriculture and industry, Kuwait imports most products, including a wide range of food and manufactured goods. Imports totaled $7.6 billion in 2000, while exports amounted to $22.7 billion. Leading purchasers of Kuwait’s exports are Japan, the United States, The Netherlands, and Singapore; chief sources for imports are the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, France, and India. The Central Bank of Kuwait in the capital issues Kuwait’s currency, the Kuwaiti dinar, which is valued at 0.31 dinars per U.S.$1 (2000 average).
Kuwait’s transportation system is modern and efficient, with a road system that is well developed by regional standards. Roads total 4,450 km (2,765 mi), of which 81 percent are paved, and most people travel by automobile. A small public bus system serves mainly foreign workers. An international airport is located on the southern outskirts of the Kuwait city metropolitan area and Kuwait Airways is the national airline. The country has three modern seaports, one of which specializes in oil exports.
Kuwait has a lively press with several independently owned daily newspapers that publish in Arabic and English. Formal press censorship ended in 1992, and today newspapers argue vigorously about most public issues. However, certain subjects (such as the emir) are considered beyond public criticism. Television, radio, and the Kuwaiti News Agency (KUNA) remain under government control and are less spirited.