The 12 pillars of competitiveness
We define competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country. The level of productivity, in turn, sets the level of prosperity that can be reached by an economy. The productivity level also determines the rates of return obtained by investments in an economy, which in turn are the fundamental drivers of its growth rates. In other words, a more competitive economy is one that is likely to grow faster over time.
The concept of competitiveness thus involves static and dynamic components. Although the productivity of a country determines its ability to sustain a high level of income, it is also one of the central determinants of its return on investment, which is one of the key factors explaining an economy’s growth potential.
Many determinants drive productivity and competitiveness. Understanding the factors behind this process has occupied the minds of economists for hundreds of years, engendering theories ranging from Adam Smith’s focus on specialization and the division of labor to neoclassical economists’ emphasis on investment in physical capital and infrastructure,2 and, more recently, to interest in other mechanisms such as education and training, technological progress, macroeconomic stability, good governance, firm sophistication, and market efficiency, among others. While all of these factors are likely to be important for competitiveness and growth, they are not mutually exclusive—two or more of them can be significant at the same time, and in fact that is what has been shown in the economic literature.3
This open-endedness is captured within the GCI by including a weighted average of many different components, each measuring a different aspect of competitiveness. In addition, Appendix A assesses statistically the robustness of the GCI as an appropriate estimate of the level of productivity and competitiveness of an economy.
The components are grouped into 12 pillars of competitiveness:
First pillar: Institutions
The institutional environment is determined by the legal and administrative framework within which individuals, firms, and governments interact to generate wealth. The importance of a sound and fair institutional environment has become all the more apparent during the recent economic and financial crisis and is especially crucial for further solidifying the fragile recovery, given the increasing role played by the state at the international level and for the economies of many countries.
The quality of institutions has a strong bearing on competitiveness and growth.4 It influences investment decisions and the organization of production and plays a key role in the ways in which societies distribute the benefits and bear the costs of development strategies and policies. For example, owners of land, corporate shares, or intellectual property are unwilling to invest in the improvement and upkeep of their property if their rights as owners are not protected.5
The role of institutions goes beyond the legal framework. Government attitudes toward markets and freedoms and the efficiency of its operations are also very important: excessive bureaucracy and red tape,6 overregulation, corruption, dishonesty in dealing with public contracts, lack of transparency and trustworthiness, inability to provide appropriate services for the business sector, and political dependence of the judicial system impose significant economic costs to businesses and slow the process of economic development.
In addition, the proper management of public finances is critical for ensuring trust in the national business environment. Indicators capturing the quality of government management of public finances are therefore included here to complement the measures of macroeconomic stability captured in pillar 3.
Although the economic literature has focused mainly on public institutions, private institutions are also an important element in the process of creating wealth. The global financial crisis, along with numerous corporate scandals, has highlighted the relevance of accounting and reporting standards and transparency for preventing fraud and mismanagement, ensuring good governance, and maintaining investor and consumer confidence. An economy is well served by businesses that are run honestly, where managers abide by strong ethical practices in their dealings with the government, other firms, and the public at large.7 Private-sector transparency is indispensable to business; it can be brought about through the use of standards as well as auditing and accounting practices that ensure access to information in a timely manner.8
Second pillar: Infrastructure
Extensive and efficient infrastructure is critical for ensuring the effective functioning of the economy, as it is an important factor in determining the location of economic activity and the kinds of activities or sectors that can develop within a country. Well-developed infrastructure reduces the effect of distance between regions, integrating the national market and connecting it at low cost to markets in other countries and regions. In addition, the quality and extensiveness of infrastructure networks significantly impact economic growth and reduce income inequalities and poverty in a variety of ways.9 A well-developed transport and communications infrastructure network is a prerequisite for the access of less-developed communities to core economic activities and services.
Effective modes of transport—including quality roads, railroads, ports, and air transport—enable entrepreneurs to get their goods and services to market in a secure and timely manner and facilitate the movement of workers to the most suitable jobs. Economies also depend on electricity supplies that are free from interruptions and shortages so that businesses and factories can work unimpeded. Finally, a solid and extensive telecommunications network allows for a rapid and free flow of information, which increases overall economic efficiency by helping to ensure that businesses can communicate and decisions are made by economic actors taking into account all available relevant information.
Third pillar: Macroeconomic environment
The stability of the macroeconomic environment is important for business and, therefore, is significant for the overall competitiveness of a country.10 Although it is certainly true that macroeconomic stability alone cannot increase the productivity of a nation, it is also recognized that macroeconomic disarray harms the economy, as we have seen in recent years, conspicuously in the European context. The government cannot provide services efficiently if it has to make high-interest payments on its past debts. Running fiscal deficits limits the government’s future ability to react to business cycles. Firms cannot operate efficiently when inflation rates are out of hand. In sum, the economy cannot grow in a sustainable manner unless the macro environment is stable. Macroeconomic stability captured the attention of the public most recently when some advanced economies, notably the United States and some European countries, needed to take urgent action to prevent macroeconomic instability when their public debt reached unsustainable levels in the wake of the global financial crisis.
It is important to note that this pillar evaluates the stability of the macroeconomic environment, so it does not directly take into account the way in which public accounts are managed by the government. This qualitative dimension is captured in the institutions pillar described above.
Fourth pillar: Health and primary education
A healthy workforce is vital to a country’s competitiveness and productivity. Workers who are ill cannot function to their potential and will be less productive. Poor health leads to significant costs to business, as sick workers are often absent or operate at lower levels of efficiency. Investment in the provision of health services is thus critical for clear economic, as well as moral, considerations.11
In addition to health, this pillar takes into account the quantity and quality of the basic education received by the population, which is increasingly important in today’s economy. Basic education increases the efficiency of each individual worker. Moreover, often workers who have received little formal education can carry out only simple manual tasks and find it much more difficult to adapt to more advanced production processes and techniques, and therefore they contribute less to devising or executing innovations. In other words, lack of basic education can become a constraint on business development, with firms finding it difficult to move up the value chain by producing more sophisticated or value-intensive products.
Fifth pillar: Higher education and training
Quality higher education and training is crucial for economies that want to move up the value chain beyond simple production processes and products.12 In particular, today’s globalizing economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers who are able to perform complex tasks and adapt rapidly to their changing environment and the evolving needs of the production system. This pillar measures secondary and tertiary enrollment rates as well as the quality of education as evaluated by business leaders. The extent of staff training is also taken into consideration because of the importance of vocational and continuous on-the-job training—which is neglected in many economies—for ensuring a constant upgrading of workers’ skills.
Sixth pillar: Goods market efficiency
Countries with efficient goods markets are well positioned to produce the right mix of products and services given their particular supply-and-demand conditions, as well as to ensure that these goods can be most effectively traded in the economy. Healthy market competition, both domestic and foreign, is important in driving market efficiency, and thus business productivity, by ensuring that the most efficient firms, producing goods demanded by the market, are those that thrive. The best possible environment for the exchange of goods requires a minimum of government intervention that impedes business activity. For example, competitiveness is hindered by distortionary or burdensome taxes and by restrictive and discriminatory rules on foreign direct investment (FDI)—which limit foreign ownership—as well as on international trade. The recent economic crisis has highlighted the high degree of interdependence of economies worldwide and the degree to which growth depends on open markets. Protectionist measures are counterproductive as they reduce aggregate economic activity.
Market efficiency also depends on demand conditions such as customer orientation and buyer sophistication. For cultural or historical reasons, customers may be more demanding in some countries than in others. This can create an important competitive advantage, as it forces companies to be more innovative and customer-oriented and thus imposes the discipline necessary for efficiency to be achieved in the market.
Seventh pillar: Labor market efficiency
The efficiency and flexibility of the labor market are critical for ensuring that workers are allocated to their most effective use in the economy and provided with incentives to give their best effort in their jobs. Labor markets must therefore have the flexibility to shift workers from one economic activity to another rapidly and at low cost, and to allow for wage fluctuations without much social disruption.13 The importance of the latter has been dramatically highlighted by events in Arab countries, where rigid labor markets were an important cause of high youth unemployment. Youth unemployment continues to be high in a number of European countries as well, where important barriers to entry into the labor market remain in place.
Efficient labor markets must also ensure clear strong incentives for employees and efforts to promote meritocracy at the workplace, and they must provide equity in the business environment between women and men. Taken together these factors have a positive effect on worker performance and the attractiveness of the country for talent, two aspects that are growing more important as talent shortages loom on the horizon.
Eighth pillar: Financial market development
The financial and economic crisis has highlighted the central role of a sound and well-functioning financial sector for economic activities. An efficient financial sector allocates the resources saved by a nation’s citizens, as well as those entering the economy from abroad, to their most productive uses. It channels resources to those entrepreneurial or investment projects with the highest expected rates of return rather than to the politically connected. A thorough and proper assessment of risk is therefore a key ingredient of a sound financial market.
Business investment is also critical to productivity. Therefore economies require sophisticated financial markets that can make capital available for private-sector investment from such sources as loans from a sound banking sector, well-regulated securities exchanges, venture capital, and other financial products. In order to fulfill all those functions, the banking sector needs to be trustworthy and transparent, and—as has been made so clear recently—financial markets need appropriate regulation to protect investors and other actors in the economy at large.
Ninth pillar: Technological readiness
In today’s globalized world, technology is increasingly essential for firms to compete and prosper. The technological readiness pillar measures the agility with which an economy adopts existing technologies to enhance the productivity of its industries, with specific emphasis on its capacity to fully leverage information and communication technologies (ICTs) in daily activities and production processes for increased efficiency and enabling innovation for competitiveness.14 ICTs have evolved into the “general purpose technology” of our time,15 given their critical spillovers to other economic sectors and their role as industry-wide enabling infrastructure. Therefore ICT access and usage are key enablers of countries’ overall technological readiness.
Whether the technology used has or has not been developed within national borders is irrelevant for its ability to enhance productivity. The central point is that the firms operating in the country need to have access to advanced products and blueprints and the ability to absorb and use them. Among the main sources of foreign technology, FDI often plays a key role, especially for countries at a less advanced stage of technological development. It is important to note that, in this context, the level of technology available to firms in a country needs to be distinguished from the country’s ability to conduct blue-sky research and develop new technologies for innovation that expand the frontiers of knowledge. That is why we separate technological readiness from innovation, captured in the 12th pillar, described below.
Tenth pillar: Market size
The size of the market affects productivity since large markets allow firms to exploit economies of scale. Traditionally, the markets available to firms have been constrained by national borders. In the era of globalization, international markets have become a substitute for domestic markets, especially for small countries. Vast empirical evidence shows that trade openness is positively associated with growth. Even if some recent research casts doubts on the robustness of this relationship, there is a general sense that trade has a positive effect on growth, especially for countries with small domestic markets.16
Thus exports can be thought of as a substitute for domestic demand in determining the size of the market for the firms of a country.17
By including both domestic and foreign markets in our measure of market size, we give credit to export-driven economies and geographic areas (such as the European Union) that are divided into many countries but have a single common market.
Eleventh pillar: Business sophistication
There is no doubt that sophisticated business practices are conducive to higher efficiency in the production of goods and services. Business sophistication concerns two elements that are intricately linked: the quality of a country’s overall business networks and the quality of individual firms’ operations and strategies. These factors are especially important for countries at an advanced stage of development when, to a large extent, the more basic sources of productivity improvements have been exhausted. The quality of a country’s business networks and supporting industries, as measured by the quantity and quality of local suppliers and the extent of their interaction, is important for a variety of reasons. When companies and suppliers from a particular sector are interconnected in geographically proximate groups, called clusters, efficiency is heightened, greater opportunities for innovation in processes and products are created, and barriers to entry for new firms are reduced. Individual firms’ advanced operations and strategies (branding, marketing, distribution, advanced production processes, and the production of unique and sophisticated products) spill over into the economy and lead to sophisticated and modern business processes across the country’s business sectors.
Twelfth pillar: Innovation
Innovation can emerge from new technological and non-technological knowledge. Non-technological innovations are closely related to the know-how, skills, and working conditions that are embedded in organizations and are therefore largely covered by the eleventh pillar of the GCI. The final pillar of competitiveness focuses on technological innovation. Although substantial gains can be obtained by improving institutions, building infrastructure, reducing macroeconomic instability, or improving human capital, all these factors eventually run into diminishing returns. The same is true for the efficiency of the labor, financial, and goods markets. In the long run, standards of living can be largely enhanced by technological innovation. Technological breakthroughs have been at the basis of many of the productivity gains that our economies have historically experienced. These range from the industrial revolution in the 18th century and the invention of the steam engine and the generation of electricity to the more recent digital revolution. The latter is not only transforming the way things are being done, but also opening a wider range of new possibilities in terms of products and services. Innovation is particularly important for economies as they approach the frontiers of knowledge, and the possibility of generating more value by merely integrating and adapting exogenous technologies tends to disappear.18
Although less-advanced countries can still improve their productivity by adopting existing technologies or making incremental improvements in other areas, for those that have reached the innovation stage of development this is no longer sufficient for increasing productivity. Firms in these countries must design and develop cutting-edge products and processes to maintain a competitive edge and move toward even higher value-added activities. This progression requires an environment that is conducive to innovative activity and supported by both the public and the private sectors. In particular, it means sufficient investment in research and development (R&D), especially by the private sector; the presence of high-quality scientific research institutions that can generate the basic knowledge needed to build the new technologies; extensive collaboration in research and technological developments between universities and industry; and the protection of intellectual property, in addition to high levels of competition and access to venture capital and financing that are analyzed in other pillars of the Index. In light of the recent sluggish recovery and rising fiscal pressures faced by advanced economies, it is important that public and private sectors resist pressures to cut back on the R&D spending that will be so critical for sustainable growth into the future.
The interrelation of the 12 pillars
Although we report the results of the 12 pillars of competitiveness separately, it is important to keep in mind that they are not independent: they tend to reinforce each other, and a weakness in one area often has a negative impact in others. For example, a strong innovation capacity (pillar 12) will be very difficult to achieve without a healthy, well-educated and trained workforce (pillars 4 and 5) that is adept at absorbing new technologies (pillar 9), and without sufficient financing (pillar 8) for R&D or an efficient goods market that makes it possible to take new innovations to market (pillar 6). Although the pillars are aggregated into a single index, measures are reported for the 12 pillars separately because such details provide a sense of the specific areas in which a particular country needs to improve.
Appendix B describes the exact composition of the GCI and the technical details of its construction.
Stages of development and the weighted index
While all of the pillars described above will matter to a certain extent for all economies, it is clear that they will affect different economies in different ways: the best way for Cambodia to improve its competitiveness is not the same as the best way for France to do so. This is because Cambodia and France are in different stages of development: as countries move along the development path, wages tend to increase and, in order to sustain this higher income, labor productivity must improve.
In line with well-known economic theory of stages of development, the GCI assumes that, in the first stage, the economy is factor-driven and countries compete based on their factor endowments—primarily unskilled labor and natural resources.19 Companies compete on the basis of price and sell basic products or commodities, with their low productivity reflected in low wages. Maintaining competitiveness at this stage of development hinges primarily on well-functioning public and private institutions (pillar 1), a well-developed infrastructure (pillar 2), a stable macroeconomic environment (pillar 3), and a healthy workforce that has received at least a basic education (pillar 4).
As a country becomes more competitive, productivity will increase and wages will rise with advancing development. Countries will then move into the efficiency-driven stage of development, when they must begin to develop more efficient production processes and increase product quality because wages have risen and they cannot increase prices. At this point, competitiveness is increasingly driven by higher education and training (pillar 5), efficient goods markets (pillar 6), well-functioning labor markets (pillar 7), developed financial markets (pillar 8), the ability to harness the benefits of existing technologies (pillar 9), and a large domestic or foreign market (pillar 10).
Finally, as countries move into the innovation-driven stage, wages will have risen by so much that they are able to sustain those higher wages and the associated standard of living only if their businesses are able to compete with new and unique products. At this stage, companies must compete by producing new and different goods using the most sophisticated production processes (pillar 11) and by innovating new ones (pillar 12).
The GCI takes the stages of development into account by attributing higher relative weights to those pillars that are more relevant for an economy given its particular stage of development. That is, although all 12 pillars matter to a certain extent for all countries, the relative importance of each one depends on a country’s particular stage of development. To implement this concept, the pillars are organized into three subindexes, each critical to a particular stage of development.
The basic requirements subindex groups those pillars most critical for countries in the factor-driven stage. The efficiency enhancers subindex includes those pillars critical for countries in the efficiency-driven stage. And the innovation and sophistication factors subindex includes the pillars critical to countries in the innovation-driven stage. The three subindexes are shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The Global Competitiveness Index framework
Note: See the appendix for the detailed structure of the GCI.
The weights attributed to each subindex in every stage of development are shown in Table 1. To obtain the weights shown in the table, a maximum likelihood regression of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was run against each subindex for past years, allowing for different coefficients for each stage of development.20 The rounding of these econometric estimates led to the choice of weights displayed in Table 1.
Table 1: Subindex weights and income thresholds for stages of development
Note: See individual country/economy profiles for exact applied weights.
* For economies with a high dependency on mineral resources, GDP per capita is not the sole criterion for the determination of the stage of development. See text for details.
Implementation of stages of development
Two criteria are used to allocate countries into stages of development. The first is the level of GDP per capita at market exchange rates. This widely available measure is used as a proxy for wages because internationally comparable data on wages are not available for all countries covered. The thresholds used are also shown in Table 1. A second criterion is used to adjust for countries that, based on income, would have moved beyond stage 1, but where prosperity is based on the extraction of resources. This is measured by the share of exports of mineral goods in total exports (goods and services), and assumes that countries with more than 70 percent of their exports made up of mineral products (measured using a five-year average) are to a large extent factor driven.21 However, for some resource-based economies that have reached very high levels of income, the capacity to increase the productivity of any other sector beyond mineral production will be based on the country’s capacity to boost innovation, because adopting technology from abroad is not sufficient to increase productivity enough to sustain their high wage levels. At the same time, these countries can afford to invest in innovation, given their high income. Consequently, countries that are resource driven and significantly wealthier than economies at the technological frontier are classified in the innovation-driven stage.22 Any countries falling between two of the three stages are considered to be “in transition.” For these countries, the weights change smoothly as a country develops, reflecting the smooth transition from one stage of development to another. This allows us to place increasingly more weight on those areas that are becoming more important for the country’s competitiveness as the country develops, ensuring that the GCI can gradually “penalize” those countries that are not preparing for the next stage. The classification of countries into stages of development is shown in Table 2.
To measure these concepts, the GCI uses statistical data such as enrollment rates, government debt, budget deficit, and life expectancy. These data are obtained from internationally recognized agencies, notably the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The descriptions and data sources of all these statistical variables are summarized in the Technical Notes and Sources at the end of this Report. Furthermore, the GCI uses data from the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (the Survey) to capture concepts that require a more qualitative assessment or for which internationally comparable statistical data are not available for the entire set of economies. The Survey process and the statistical treatment of data are described in detail in Chapter 1.3 of this Report.
This year the Report covers 144 economies. In this edition, because of data availability issues, we could not include Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Ecuador, or Liberia. On the other hand, Tajikistan, which could not be included in the last edition, is re-instated this year.
Review of the Global Competitiveness Index
The Global Competitiveness Index has been used as an important tool by policymakers of many countries over the years. Since its first publication in 2005, the Index has become widely recognized as one of the key assessments of global competitiveness as defined by the World Economic Forum.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of its creation, and in order to keep the GCI at the cutting edge of thinking and research, the World Economic Forum has engaged in a review of the Index. This two-year process will gather insights from high-level experts in academia along with practitioners and business leaders to identify the improvements needed to capture the evolving nature of the drivers of competitiveness. Since the start of this process in September 2013, the Forum has made progress in evaluating the nature of the adjustments that should be made and identifying potential new measures to be included in the Index. This progress has been possible thanks to the insights gathered in a series of workshops and sessions that took place at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2014 and in an expert workshop that took place in Geneva in June 2014. Further events are planned to continue this review.
With this endeavor, the Forum aims to remain at the forefront of the effort to provide policymakers and business and civil society leaders with a relevant tool that can measure and benchmark the drivers of competitiveness and prosperity in an economy, and that can stimulate a constructive dialogue to catalyze the needed reforms and productive investments.