No one knows what makes a country overtake its peers and emerge as a world leader in a variety of measures, e.g. GDP, innovation or educational competitiveness. A recent study in the January 2014 issue of Science indicates that what people in a society say to themselves may make a difference.
The article in Science magazine about the research done by Hall, et al. indicates, “members of a group associated with unfavorable stereotypes can evoke behavior that conforms to those stereotypes.” One remedy is to have each of the group recall a situation or incident in their lives where they experienced “autobiographical self affirmation”, for example when they had the positive experience of success or where the individual was recognized for an accomplishment.
While the first, or poor group, responded by doing better on batteries of tests after self-affirmation, wealthier people saw no performance enhancement. They did not respond to the poor group’s negative stereotypes. The study observed, “As one would predict, the performance-enhancing effect of self-affirmation was not observed when wealthy people (whose average annual income was 10 times that of the poor participants) were tested.”
This suggests complacency in the wealthy. It also shows the poor’s way of overcoming negative stereotypes, improving their self-image and increasing their competitiveness. There is no reason to assume this same self-affirmation is not at work in entire countries. If we think about the economy and wealth of the United States, the oft-mentioned thought of ‘American exceptionalism’, and the continued deterioration of the U.S position in a variety of rankings, other countries may soon usurp U.S. world leadership.
The October 2013 issue of Scientific American contains an excellent graphic that displays an index that is based on the combination of population size, gross domestic product per person, and the Global Innovation Index that looks at 84 data points of each of the 142 economies studied. This chart and the Global Innovation index are the product of Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The category “Leaders” is headed by Switzerland that has had the highest Innovation Score for two years running. This country of eight million has a per-person GDP of $45,285 and is number one in industry-university research collaboration. In the rankings the United Sates, that has the largest economy, ranks fifth. In the absence of such a large economy and the resulting GDP, the U.S. may not rank as high against the other 142 countries. Switzerland is in first place, followed in order by Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States.
Closely following but still in the Leader category are Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, and Ireland. Also in the leader category, but leading the middle in descending order is Canada followed by Luxembourg, Iceland, Israel, Germany, and Norway. Heading up the bottom of the Leaders category are New Zealand, Korean Republic, Australia, France, Belgium, Japan, and Austria.
Another group is labeled “Learners”. These countries are marked by more rapid growth but small population size with the notable exceptions of India and China. At the top of this group are Malaysia, Hungary, and Latvia followed by China and Costa Rica.
Of note is the rapid development and growth of Costa Rica and Uganda that are listed as the two most improved countries. Costa Rica is distinguished by its ranking as third globally in the density of new business registrations. Uganda is singled out because of its high R&D funding from abroad.
Following those at the top of the Learners category are Moldova, Montenegro, India, Mongolia and Vietnam. Moldova stands out because of its second highest rate of trademark registrations relative to GDP in the world.
Because these results may be biased by the size of the U.S. economy let’s take it out of the equation. Surely students in the U.S. are just as smart as anyone else. Let’s look at comparisons of students and how they perform on the same internationally administered tests. Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance reported that on the same tests administered internationally, U. S. students were not “progressing to catch up to their foreign peers”. On these tests American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading.
The report continued by saying “Students in Latvia, Chile, and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than their American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Columbia, and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate.”
Does this mean the quality of education in the U.S. is not as good as that found in other countries? A recent article in the December issue of Scientific American written by Harold O. Levy states the popularity of U. S. university advanced degrees has risen as more and more foreign students go to America to study.
Levy cites statistics that show “Citizens of other countries now receive more than half the Ph.D.’s awarded by U.S. universities in engineering, computer science and physics, on top of earning one third of all college degrees in science and engineering. In certain subfields, the disparity is much higher: in electrical engineering, for example, foreign students received 65% of all doctoral diplomas in 2001.”
Levy warns that in a study conducted in 2002 about 30% of these foreign students had no declared intention to stay in the U. S. after their education. They indicated they were more interested in returning to their home countries. This study took place before the 2007 collapse of the U. S. job market. This contradicts the American self-talk that reinforces the thought that there is a brain drain of the brightest of the rest of the world immigrating to the U.S. to stay and work.
Another report, this one released by the Institute of International Education in 2013 was entitled Open Door Report on International Educational Exchange. This report states “Students from the top three places of origin – China, India, and South Korea – now represent 49% of the total number of international students in the United States.”
In addition, the report states, “There were increases in the number of students from 16 of the top 25 places of origin. These 16 are Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.”
If colleges and universities in the U.S. are still in demand internationally, the quality of our college and university educations are not the problem. Let us turn once again to look at innovations more closely without considering the size of our economy. A December 2013 report by the World Intellectual Property Organization is entitled Global Patent Filings See Fastest Growth in 18 Years.
It reports “for the first time, China tops the ranking at number 1 for both the source (filings by China) and the destination (filed in China) for the four types of Intellectual Property (patents, utility models, trademarks and industrial designs).” The report continued, “Of the top five IP offices worldwide, the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (SIPO) was alone in recording double-digit growth for each of the four types of IP. Continued rapid filing growth in China is the main driver of IP growth.”
In a press release from WIPO on the same topic, they identified countries that led the pack with the most patent filings in their own country and in other countries. The article stated, “Among the top 20 IP offices, China (+24%) saw the fastest growth in filings in 2012, followed by the offices in New Zealand (+14.3%), Mexico (+9%), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (+7.8%), and the Russian Federation (+6.8%). Several offices of middle-income countries, such as Brazil (+5.1%), India (+3.9%), and South Africa (+2.9%), also reported growth in filings.”
The emphasis of the Utility patent model filings were as follows:
Country Areas of filings
Israel and the U.S. computer and medical tech
Belgium, India, Switzerland organic fine chemistry
Brazil basic materials chemistry
China and Russia material metallurgy tech
Japan, Singapore, Republic of Korea semiconductors
France, Germany and Sweden transport-related tech
Of the top 20 countries with the most filings for Trademarks, the IP office of two middle-income countries, Turkey (+24.1%) and China (+16%) reported the highest rates of growth. The report also states “Mexico (+5.5%) and Russia (+7.9%) also exhibited strong growth in class counts for 2012. In raw numbers China filed for 1.58 million Trademarks, the U.S. filed 599,896, Germany filed some 387,503 and France filed 384,665.
In 2012 there were Industrial Design patents containing an estimated 1.22 million designs. Those countries experiencing double digit grown in their industrial design patent filings were Russia with 29.5% growth, followed by China with 26.1%, Turkey with 12.4%, Brazil with 12% and Korea with 11.8%.
Many of the same countries keep showing up with significant growth numbers. Someday they may catch up with the U.S. Going back to our beginning premise we need to look at self-talk in the U.S. to see why America may be slipping in its world standing in so many categories.
On December 3, 2013 the BBC News ran a story reporting the results of a new (November 6, 2013) Pew survey. The report states, “For the first time in 40 years, a majority of Americans say the US plays a less important and powerful role in the world than it did a decade ago.” Forty-eight percent of respondents mistakenly saw China as the world’s top economic power. Only 31% correctly identified the U.S. as having the largest economy in the world.
Other findings of the survey showed that more than half of the participants said the US should mind its own business. A majority of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans (53%) and independents (55%) agreed we should mind our own business. Forty-six percent of Democrats agreed. This was the first time in 50 years that a majority of Americans expressed this view. They viewed involvements around the world as a mistake.
So these views of a declining U.S. could help explain a possible deterioration of optimism in Americans. If they believe the country is over extended, has less influence around the world and no longer has the largest or strongest economy, this says our self-talk may be self-defeating.
It is impossible to make a hard and fast declaration of what the citizens of the U.S. are saying to themselves or how this might be affecting their actions. We can see however, other countries redoubling their efforts to make the most out of their potential and seeing considerable opportunity to improve. While the beginning premise may be flawed, it at least should stimulate further thought by each of us. The least that can be done is for Americans to redirect their self-talk to our positive accomplishments.
As a footnote, the process of self-affirmation and its beneficial effects on the individual is cited in the book Beyond, Animal Ego and Time. It is described in Chapter 15, which is entitled Enhancing the Life Experience. Described as a tool to be used in contextual reformation and mood management, it is mentioned in the text on page 212 of the paperback version of the book. The author heartily recommends the tool for uplifting one’s mood and returning to a more optimistic disposition.
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