Global scorecard for innovation: Switzerland at top, China rising, N. Korea and Cuba unlisted

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Not surprisingly the countries leading in Research & Development are among the world’s most successful economies.

Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden top the list among the top ten global innovation economies which also include the United Kingdom, Singapore, the United States, Finland, Germany and Ireland.

The release of the Global Innovation Index 2018 (GII) proves the point with a listing of 126 countries standings in the world.

innovationIn a joint survey between New York’s Cornell University and the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the annual GII ranks economies based on 80 indicators ranging from “intellectual property filing rates, to mobile application creation, education spending and scientific and technical publications.”

The Survey states that “the U.S. ranks 6th overall this year, down two spots from 2017, a change that is partly related to model changes. In absolute terms the U.S. remains the top
contributor in key innovation inputs and outputs, including in investment, in research and development, and comes second after China in the volume of researchers, patents and scientific and technical publications.”

East and South East Asia powerhouse economies predictably rank well with Singapore coming in fifth, South Korea (12), Japan (13), and Hong Kong (14).

For example, South Korea “maintains its top rankings in patents applications by origin and various indicators measuring R&D efforts, gross domestic expenditure on R&D, R&D financed and performed by business, and research talent in business enterprise.”

Yet it’s China’s dramatic rise to 17th place globally that has grasped attention. Beijing government policies have focused on prioritizing research and development as well as
Development-intensive ingenuity.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry states, “China’s rapid rise reflects a strategic direction set from the top leadership to developing world class capacity in innovation and to moving the structural basis of the economy to more knowledge-intensive industries that rely on innovation to maintain competitive advantage.”

Education remains a key indicator for success. According to GII, “translating investments in education, research and R&D expenditures into high-quality innovation outputs. Leaders are Switzerland, Luxembourg, China, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Malta, Hungary, Germany, and Sweden.” In other words good education reaps long term benefits.

Israel leads in many indicators. According to the Survey the number of researchers, R&D expenditures, venture capital deals, R&D funded by business enterprises, and research talent are part of Israel’s standing at 11th place.

Despite the educational and research metrics used in the wide ranging survey, an obvious truism underscores much of the success; good governance and free market economic policies.

With the exception of China whose corporate state system underlines Beijing’s model, the other top twenty countries are free market or mixed economies. Significantly, most have
low levels of corruption and a vigorous rule of law.

Vietnam’s innovation ranks 45th while Russia is 46th; in Vietnam’s case a hybrid socialist/capitalist economy exists while in Russia there’s a quasi-free market kleptocracy. In neither case is there a strong incentive for innovation.

India which ranks 57 is equally complex. After years of an underperforming democratic socialist model, the county has embraced a largely free market economy. Stifling bureaucracy, ingrained corruption and the vestiges of the past still hinder development. This despite a vibrant and growing software and IT sector.

South Africa ranks highest for the African continent at #58 with a “sophisticated market and business sector. Other strong indicators: access to credit, market capitalization, university and industry research collaborations.” Equally, Brazil who scores #64 shows strengths in “R&D expenditures, high-tech net imports and exports, quality of scientific publications and universities.”

Sadly other countries such as Yemen who are at the bottom of the list are battered by poverty, civil war and terrorism.

Yet many other states such as Cuba, Burma and North Korea are not even listed. Others like Venezuela, have been willfully destroyed by an incompetent socialist regime which turned a once middle class democracy into a dystopian dictatorship.

Education matters, but so too does government policy.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]