The Twenty Most Productive Nations In The World

June 28, 2010 by Douglas A. McIntyre

24/7 Wall St. decided to find the most productive countries in the world. The challenge of creating this list could be framed in a number of ways, including selecting a source for the data and determining the measurements used.  24/7 elected to use GDP per capita as the measurement and the International Monetary Fund as the source for the data.  The GDP is, of course, affected by the country’s population, its natural resources, or its manufacturing expertise.  In addition, the minimum standard of living mandated by each government impacted the earning power of the people in each of these countries.

The list is divided into several groups, each of which has a significant and identifiable aspect marking its place among the nations with high productivity.

The first of these are countries where the governments exert a high degree of control over regulatory and business policy while allowing free market capitalism to operate with little restriction. The countries may be oppressive in terms of individual rights, but many of their laws have been established to attract financial and manufacturing companies from around the world. This list includes Singapore and Hong Kong. Neither of them has much in terms of natural resources. Each has created a large financial and trading base and has helped develop and foster an extremely well educated workforce.

Another group of countries that comprise the list are energy rich. These include Norway, which is the most productive country, and Middle East nations, including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Their countries have small populations, particularly in relationship to their vast oil and gas wealth.

Natural resources are not limited to crude oil. Some of the countries on the most productive list, which have a very broad range of raw materials, are Canada, Australia, and the United States

Another set of counties on the list are “old world” manufacturing and transportation nations which have held their positions on the productivity food chain for decades if not centuries. These include Germany, Austria, Denmark, and to a lesser extent France.

Intellectual property is a primary source of GDP for two nations on the list: Japan and especially the United States.  America also has the advantage of possessing one of the world’s largest supplies of raw materials and the largest agricultural economy.

The one misleading aspect of the “productivity” of the countries on the list is that some of them are socialist states that provide incomes for the vast majority of their citizens or insist on regulations that require companies working within their borders to provide favorable unemployment benefits. These nations include Norway, Sweden, and to some extent Switzerland and Finland. Many economists would make the argument that if the GDPs of these countries were not especially strong they would not be able to support underemployed or unemployed citizens.  It is clear that a nation rich enough to support its “poor” is by definition highly productive.

Nearly all of the countries on this list have existed largely as they are today since WWII and some much longer. The exceptions are in the oil rich regions of the Middle East.  All of these countries are located in areas which are not beset by the kind of strife that is relatively common in many parts of Africa and the Middle East. The political stability of the countries on this list, combined with favorable government economic policy, natural resources, refined manufacturing skills, financial prowess or some combination of these makes these nations unusually productive.

24/7 Wall St. looked at a number of sources for both GDP and population, including The World Bank. The International Monetary Fund, The CIA’s World Factbook, and information provided by US agencies. Information about economic activity in each country came from State Department sources, the CIA’s World Factbook, and data provided by the countries themselves.GDP figures are based on the purchasing power per capita calculation. 24/7 Wall St. used the IMF GDP data.

1) The Kingdom Of Norway

*Population: 4,676,305

*GDP (ppp): $382 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $52,561

The northern European nation is a nearly perfect mixture of government economic planning based on welfare capitalism, and a lightly regulated business environment. Norway has huge oil reserves which accounts for 30 percent of the nation’s income. It is also the third largest gas exporter in the world. These energy industries plus forest products and hydropower mean high income and low unemployment for a nation that has a population of less than half that of New York City.

2) The Republic Of Singapore

*Population: 4,701,069

*GDP (ppp): $177 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $50,522

Like Norway, the government has almost complete control of the economy and allows free enterprise to flourish in a business-friendly environment. The high level of education (93 percent of citizens over 15 can read) among the population drives large consumer electronics and pharmaceuticals in industries. Singapore is also one of the largest financial centers in Asia.

3) The United States Of America

Population: 310,232,863

GDP (ppp): $14.25 trillion

GDP Per Capita (ppp): $46,380

The US is the only particularly large country by population on the top 20 list with the exception of Japan which is less than half its size. America has several advantages as an economy. The first, manufacturing capacity, is the most obvious. So is the size of the consumer sector. But, the two things that put the US into a different category are agriculture and intellectual property. American farms still out produce those of any other nation. America completely dominates the worlds of information technology, proprietary premium content, and the internet.

4) The Swiss Confederation

*Population: 7,623,438

*GDP (ppp): $494 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $43,007

This is another example of a country which has strict and nearly complete control of its economy. The government tax structure favors business. The nation has a huge financial services and banking industry part of the Switzerland’s legacy of neutrality. Ninety-nine percent of the population over 15 can read, perhaps the most essential factor for an educated workforce.

5) Hong Kong SAR, China

*Population: 7,089,705

*GDP (ppp): $210 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $42,748

The People’s Republic is in control of all policy and the local economy is heavily regulated. At the same time, it is China’s conduit to the free market. Hong Kong “re-exports” goods, most of which are produced on the mainland. It is one of the three financial centers of the region, along with Shanghai and Tokyo. Banking giant HSBC has its headquarters there and many other global banks have their Asia management located in the city.

6) The Netherlands

*Population: 16,783,092

*GDP (ppp): $795 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $39,937

Through its ports and airports, this country is one of the largest gateways to Europe. The nation is highly industrialized and exports manufactured goods in the chemical and electric machinery sectors. The Netherlands is also home to much of the oil refinery capacity in Northern Europe.

7) The Republic Of Ireland

*Population: 4,250,163

*GDP (ppp): $228 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $39,468

The country is the home of a number of manufacturing and distribution center for multinational companies, which originally turned to the nation because of its low labor costs. A mortgage bubble in the country which began a decade ago, caused an increase in construction activity. This happened  at about the same time that personal income was rising due to a need for educated workers.

8 ) The Commonwealth Of Australia

*Population: 21,515,754

*GDP (ppp): $997 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $38,910

The island nation has an economy not unlike the one in the US a century ago. The country has little intellectual property, but its range of natural resources has few peers. Some of the largest mines and mining companies in the world are in Australia due to large deposits of iron ore and copper. The country is also a large supplier of natural gas. The government, which promotes free-market regulations, is also critical to Australia’s success.

9) The Republic Of Austria

*Population: 8,214,160

*GDP (ppp): $381 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $38,838

The country is a large trading partner with Germany. Austria is a major financial center and has large steel manufacturing and chemical plants. Over ten percent of the country’s GDP comes from tourism.

10) The State Of Kuwait

*Population: 2,789,132

*GDP (ppp): $111 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $38,304

The nation’s oil reserves are the fifth largest among all nations – ahead of Venezuela, Russia, and the US. And the country has only 2.9 million people. The industry supports that population so completely that unemployment is only slightly above two percent.

11) Canada

*Population: 33,759,742

*GDP (ppp): $1.34 trillion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $38,025

The country has a great deal In common with Australia economically, and the two have relatively similarly sized populations. Canada is rich in minerals, gas, oil, shale oil, and farmland. The nation is the largest exporter of energy to the US.

12) The United Arab Emirates

*Population: 4,975,593

*GDP (ppp): $230 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $36,535

The country is sixth in the world in proven oil reserves just behind Kuwait. There are less than five million people in the UAE. Some modest amount of GDP comes from infrastructure capacity, much related to the oil industry.

13) The Kingdom Of Sweden

*Population: 9,074,055

*GDP (ppp): $405 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $35,964

Like other northern European nations, Sweden has a highly socialized government which nearly guarantees relatively good incomes for most of the county’s workers. The nation’s bounty of natural resources includes timber, hydropower, and minerals – particularly iron.

14) Denmark

*Population: 5,515,575

*GDP (ppp): $309 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $35, 757

Another Northern European nation in which income is largely guaranteed by the government. The country has huge pharmaceutical and shipping industries. Denmark is also in the forefront of developing renewable energy products.

15) The Kingdom Of Belgium

*Population: 10,423,493

*GDP (ppp): $470 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $35,421

The country has a “middle man” economy due to its ports and manufacturing prowess: it imports raw materials and exports finished goods. Belgium is also one of the leading financial centers in Europe.

16) The United Kingdom

*Population: 61,284,806

*GDP (ppp): $2.18 trillion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $34,618

There was a time when the UK was on the top of this list, corresponding with when it was the most powerful country in the world. The nation is now the financial capital of Europe. The United Kingdom also has huge offshore oil reserves. Some level of socialism keeps incomes relatively high.

17) Federal Republic Of Germany

*Population: 82,282,806

*GDP (ppp): $3.35 trillion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $34,212

Until last year when it was passed by China, Germany was the largest exporter in the world. The country is also among the largest manufacturers of machines, autos, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Germany has a substantial intellectual capital reservoir which has been created by software companies like SAP and high tech industrial design operations.

18) The French Republic

*Population: 64,057,792

*GDP (ppp): 2.68 trillion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $33,678

The country has the second largest GDP in Europe after Germany. It has a much larger tourism business. Seventy-five million people visit France each year. The nation also has power and defense industries.

19) The Republic Of Finland

*Population: 5,255,068

*GDP (ppp): $238 billion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $33,555

GDP per Capita: $33,566. The nation has a remarkably diversified economy. It is headquarters to the world’s largest cell phone company—Nokia. Finland also has tremendous timber and metal reserves. The country has a highly-educated manufacturing workforce and the machining capacity to finish its own raw materials for export.

20) Japan

*Population: 126,804,433

*GDP (ppp): $5.07 trillion

*GDP Per Capita (ppp): $32,607

Japan might have been at the top of this list two decades ago. It remains one of the world’s largest developers and manufacturers of cars and consumer electronics, although a great deal of factory work has been relocated to China. Japan is still one of the financial capitals in Asia. The employment philosophy of many companies in the country is such that the unemployment level is low.

Douglas A. McIntyre