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South Korea Leads World In Innovation As U.S. Exits Top Ten

South Korea returned to first place in the latest Bloomberg Innovation Index, while the U.S. dropped out of a top 10 that features a cluster of European countries. South Korea Leads World In Innovation As U.S. Exits Top Ten

Korea regained the crown from Germany, which dropped to fourth place. The Asian nation has now topped the index for seven of the nine years that it’s been published. Singapore and Switzerland each moved up one spot to rank second and third.

The Bloomberg index analyzes dozens of criteria using seven equally weighted metrics, including research and development spending, manufacturing capability and concentration of high-tech public companies.

The 2021 rankings reflect a world where the fight against Covid-19 has brought innovation to the fore –- from government efforts to contain the pandemic, to the digital infrastructure that’s allowed economies to work through it, and the race to develop vaccines that can end it.

“In the year of Covid and facing the urgency of climate change, the importance of innovation fundamentals only increases,” said Catherine Mann, global chief economist at Citigroup Inc. “Innovation is often measured by new ideas, new products and new services,” she said, but it’s their “diffusion and adoption” that is the real metric of success.

Wuhan Breakthrough

Much of the Bloomberg data comes from before the virus crisis. Still, it’s notable that many countries high on the index –- like Korea, Germany and Israel –- have been world leaders in some areas of fighting the pandemic, whether it’s contact-tracing or speedy vaccination.

American names like Zoom Video Communications Inc. or vaccine-maker Pfizer Inc. are among the past year’s emblems of innovation, reflecting the U.S.’s top ranking for density of high-tech firms.

The pandemic has also spotlighted a different kind of breakthrough, one that has more to do with policy and organization than technology or research, according to Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Romer.

“We should recognize that the available metrics miss important dimensions of innovation,” said Romer, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “Officials in Wuhan showed for the first time that in a couple of weeks, it is feasible to test 10 million residents of a city for coronavirus. This was a very important public health innovation.”

 

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