This week a group of academics from around the world determined that the UK was the world’s 14th most “entrepreneurial” nation. Those responsible are from George Mason U in the US, Pecs in Hungary and Imperial College here in London, and here is Imperial’s release on the matter.
Their findings suggest that the British government is dead wrong to insist that red tape and high taxes impede entrepreneurialism. While the US is top of the league, various high-tax, big-state nations such as Norway, Sweden and Iceland come out ahead of the UK, alongside the usual free-market suspects led by Singapore. Ample proof of my long-held belief that the politician’s “attack on red tape” is the last refuge of governments (or their would-be replacements) who have run out of proper ideas.
Simplifying madly, this second edition of GEDI (yes, the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index) measures attitudes to entrepreneurship, the ambition of entrepreneurs and the level of activity that they achieve, mainly in high-value activity such as technology.
The first point that the table reveals is that it is hard to be a good entrepreneur in a poor economic context. With a very few exceptions such as Taiwan, the nations above the UK are rich. By contrast, four of the bottom six (out of 78) are in sub-Saharan Africa, joined there by Guatemala and India. This result just about confirms everything we know about India’s continuing failure to challenge China economically: China is here in 54th position. (Pity the many nations that don’t even get on the table to start with, or rather, pity their inhabitants.)
This analysis also shows that you cannot be an entrepreneur in a place where the laws don’t work. Russia is 61st: why would anyone want to start a business that might get stolen at any moment? By contrast Slovenia, a bit of the former Yugoslavia that now enjoys all the stability of full EU membership, is in 21st slot, above alleged capitalist haven Hong Kong. As I said, red tape might be a nuisance, but its absence is far worse.
Of course, entrepreneurialism is only one aspect of economic life. A nation needs big, old firms as well as thrusting new ones. It needs farmers as well as software developers, and it certainly needs a large and self-confident public sector. It needs nurses and teachers along with thrusting business types. Michael Porter reminds us that on a national scale, it is impossible to have a strong economy if even one part of the whole is defective.
The overlap between the GEDI table and the top nations in the QS World University Rankings is a fascinating one. While the US is clearly a leader in producing new technology and the entrepreneurs to commercialise it, appearing at the top of this table, the fit lower down is far less clear. The UK is plainly number two to the US in any university ranking, but languishes here. In second place instead is Australia. Might this be a sign that it can overcome resource dependency? Certainly it has a lively university sector that seems capable of producing the right people.
The GEDI analysis is a powerful indicator of nations’ abilities to generate new, high-value jobs. It suggests that rumours of the US ceding economic leadership to China are exaggerated. It also implies that Japan (27) has some way to go before it can regard its economic and social reforms as complete. And it has some good surprises that will give column-inches to journalists. Uruguay at 28? UAE at 14? Jamaica ahead of Brazil? Gripping!