These Are the World’s Most Innovative Economies

There’s something about those Nordic countries.

In the battle of ideas, Sweden climbed to No. 2 and Finland cracked into the top five of the 2017 Bloomberg Innovation Index, which scores economies using factors including research and development spending and the concentration of high-tech public companies.

innSouth Korea remained the big winner, topping the international charts in R&D intensity, value-added manufacturing and patent activity and with top-five rankings in high-tech density, higher education and researcher concentration. Scant progress in improving its productivity score — now No. 32 in the world — helps explain why South Korea’s lead narrowed in the past year.

Silver medal winner Sweden owes most of its rise to improvement in the manufacturing value-added metric, while Nordic neighbour Finland jumped two spots in large part because of the rise of high-tech firms in the country. Norway held its number 14 spot from last year.

Fresh ideas tend to pay off big in Sweden, even as the current government is less business-friendly and has imposed labor taxes that could crimp business investment, said Magnus Henrekson, director of the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, a private foundation in Stockholm. The Swedes themselves promote an atmosphere of great personal ambition — unlike some European neighbors that emphasize the collective — and that’s a boon to innovation, he said.

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Magnus Henrekson

“In the culture, people are super individualistic — this means that people have ideas and are very interested in pursuing them in this way in order to become wealthy,” said Henrekson. “The incentives are there and the tax system favors them.”

The biggest loser in this year’s Bloomberg Innovation Index was Russia, plunging 14 spots to No. 26, almost five times the size of the next-largest drop in the rankings. Battered by sanctions and the after-effects of a couple years of subdued energy prices, Russia’s solid scores last year in manufacturing and productivity were destroyed in this year’s tally.

Japan, where the yen is still struggling to recover from an almost two-year slide, dropped the most of any economy in the top 25, moving to No. 7 from No. 4 as they lost their best-in-world distinction for patent activity. Croatia also slipped three spots, to No. 41 from No. 38.

The U.S. fell one spot to No. 9, while Israel moved up one notch to No. 10. China held its title as the strongest-ranked emerging market, at No. 21, as it improved its tertiary education score while its high-tech concentration wavered.

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Wei Lu 
and Michelle Jamrisko are reporters at Bloomberg.

This is an extract of an article that appeared in bloomberg.com on 17 January 2017

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