There's a new high-water mark for the world today... literally.

Burj

Burj Dubai

The Dubai government officially opened the top floor of the Burj Dubai for business today. At 168 stories, 2,684 feet, it is the world's tallest building by a long shot. It's also the world's tallest free-standing structure, highest occupied floor, highest observation deck and longest traveling elevator. We can think of some other records... like, world's most hyped construction project or world's greatest testament to hot money and cheap labor.

But still, this thing is as big as two Empire State Buildings staked on top of one another. It's 15 degrees colder at the top than at the bottom. Peacocking, chest beating... whatever you want to call it, this is pretty wild.

And if the size of your marquee skyscraper has any relevance to your global swagger, here's an interesting list. The updated biggest buildings in the world, in order: The Burj Dubai, Taipei 101, Shanghai World Financial Center, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and then the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago.

There is nothing new about building tall, writes Peter Cooper of arabianmoney.net, one of our favorite contacts in Dubai. The Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest building for nearly 4,000 years, until surpassed by the English medieval cathedral at Lincoln, which was the tallest building in the world from 1300 until the spire collapsed in 1549. By then other super tall cathedrals had been built.

My own home town Salisbury now has the tallest cathedral in Britain, admittedly a modest 404 feet, but a triumph of engineering when it opened in 1320. You can still see the giant wheel used to raise the stone during construction...

It took nearly 4,000 years for my ancestors to come close to matching the pharaohs of Egypt. And it took 42 years for the Empire State Building to be topped by the World Trade Center, on whose roof I have also stood. Alas, post-Sept. 11, it is no more.

The 168-story Burj Dubai will likely also hold its title for some time... The economics of building tall are ruinously expensive, which will deter rivals. My city in England peaked in prosperity around the time the spire was completed and spent the next 775 years in a bear market.

In my time in Dubai, almost nothing has been built in Salisbury, while Dubai has quadrupled its GDP and completed the world's tallest building. What can be done for an encore?