The United States is the seventh most innovative country in the world, according to a new study.
The Global Innovation Index, published by the international business school INSEAD, rates the United States behind Switzerland (first place,) Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland and Denmark.
Measuring innovation is no simple task, said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. But one thing is clear: “The U.S. is not number one,” Atkinson said.
In addition to sound tax policies and a healthy environment for small businesses, policymakers believe that innovations in science and technology and their successful commercialization is crucial to driving economic growth.
“You can look at these countries that are doing really well and say, what policies have they been putting in place?” Atkinson said.
The INSEAD report focuses broadly on two aspects of innovation: inputs and outputs. Inputs include things like political stability, press freedom, university attendance, and information technology use. Innovation outputs include the number of patents granted, economic indicators, and number of scientific journal articles published.
As with any big international study, however, the devil is in the details. Some of the specific factors included in the study may not make sense, Atkinson said.
For instance, the index includes a measure of students studying abroad.
“If you’ve got a really sucky system, a lot of your students are going to be studying abroad,” he said. “Is that bad or is it good?”
“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” Such was President Obama’s charge to “win the future” in his 2011 State of the Union address.
At a time when people debate the challenge posed by China, India, and other emerging economies, some may take solace in the fact that the United States (No. 7 in the new report) outranks China (29th) and India (62nd).
But what we should really be looking at, Atkinson said, is improvement over time.
In a 2009 study, he and his ITIF research colleague Scott Andes found that China lead 40 countries in increasing its innovation competitiveness over the previous decade.
The United States came in dead last.
No matter how you look at it, the United States and other developed economies have a significant head start.
But if innovation is really the way to “win the future,” U.S. policymakers have a lot of work to do to keep the country globally competitive.