Countries Ranked by Their Economic Complexity - Visual Capitalist
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Countries Ranked by Their Economic Complexity

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global economic complexity ranking

Countries Ranked by Their Economic Complexity

In the past, the trade between nations was a much simpler matter to grasp. Commodities and a few finished goods moved between a handful of countries in a straightforward way.

Today, around 6,000 officially classified products pass through the world’s ports, and digital products and services zip across country lines creating an extra layer of difficulty in measuring economic activity.

To try to understand this enormous level of economic complexity, the team at Harvard’s Growth Lab have created the Country Complexity Ranking. Here’s a look at the top 50 countries in the ranking:

RankCountryScoreTop Export(s)
1Japan2.28Cars, ICT (tech)
2Switzerland2.14ICT, gold, packaged medicaments
3South Korea2.05ICT, cars
4Germany2.02Integrated circuits, ICT, cars
5Singapore1.81ICT, cars
6Czech Rep.1.79Cars, vehicle parts
7Austria1.71ICT, tourism
8Finland1.69ICT
9Sweden1.67ICT
10Hungary1.64ICT, cars
11Slovenia1.57Cars, ICT
12United States1.47ICT, tourism
13Italy1.42ICT, tourism
14United Kingdom1.42ICT, finance
15Slovakia1.41Cars
16France1.40ICT, tourism
17Ireland1.39ICT
18Israel1.37ICT, diamonds
19China1.30Electronic equipment
20Mexico1.27Cars
21Poland1.19ICT
22Denmark1.18Transport, ICT
23Belgium1.16ICT
24Romania1.16ICT, vehicle parts
25Thailand1.15Tourism
26Netherlands1.04ICT
27Estonia1.03ICT, transport
28Malaysia0.95Integrated circuits
29Belarus0.93Refined oils, ICT
30Croatia0.92Tourism, ICT
31Lithuania0.85Transport, refined oils
32Spain0.85Tourism, ICT
33Philippines0.75Integrated circuits, ICT
34Portugal0.72Tourism, ICT
35Canada0.69Crude oil, cars, ICT
36Bosnia and Herz.0.65Tourism, ICT
37Serbia0.65ICT
38Turkey0.65Tourism, transport
39Latvia0.64Transport, ICT
40Bulgaria0.62Tourism, ICT
41Norway0.56Crude oil, petrol. gases
42Ukraine0.42ICT, transport
43Cyprus0.38Tourism, transport
44Tunisia0.34Electrical wire, tourism
45India0.32ICT
46Costa Rica0.30ICT, tourism
47Uruguay0.29Tourism, wood pulp
48Brazil0.24Soya beans, iron ore
49Russia0.24Crude oil, refined oils
50Lebanon0.24Tourism, ICT

Source

Japan, Switzerland, and South Korea sit at the top of the ranking.

Czech Republic – which was recently ranked as the most attractive manufacturing destination in Europe – has a strong showing, ranking 6th in the world. The United States slipped out of the top 10 into 12th position.

The Power of Productive Knowledge

Highly ranked countries tend to have the following attributes:

    • A high diversity of exported products
    • Sophisticated and unique exported products (i.e. few other countries produce similar products)

In short, the ranking hinges on the concept of “productive knowledge” – or the tacit ability to produce a product.

Muhammed Yildirim, of Harvard University, has thought up a useful analogy for thinking about the role of productive knowledge in the complexity of an economy:

“Suppose that each type of productive knowledge is a letter and each product is a word composed of these letters. Like the game of Scrabble, each country holds a set of letters with plenty of copies of each letter and tries to make words out of these letters. For instance, with letters like A, C and T, one can construct words like CAT or ACT. Then our problem of measuring economic complexity resembles interpreting how many different letters there are in each country’s portfolio. Some letters, like A and E, go in many words, whereas other letters, like X and Q, are used in very few. Extending this analogy to the countries and products, only those with a larger diversity of letters will be able to make more and more unique products. On the other hand, words that require more letters will be made only in the countries that have all the requisite pieces.”

complexity scrabble analogy

Not All Exports are Created Equal

Much like the rack of letters in a Scrabble game, the elements of every export-driven economy can be broken down and quantified. The resulting categories encompass everything from rendered pig fat to integrated circuits, each contributing to the country’s overall score.

complexity connectiveness by sector

Agricultural and extractive industries tend to score lower on the complexity scale. Machinery can be highly complex to produce and is connected to many facets of the global economy.

Visualizing this overall mix of categories can provide a unique perspective beyond big picture numbers like GDP. Below are a few real world examples of export markets on both ends of the complexity spectrum.

Japan

Since this ranking began in the mid-1990s, Japan has never been bumped from the top spot.

Due to a restricted land mass and some ingenuity, Japan has become the prototypical example of a low-ubiquity, high-sophistication export economy.

japan economic complexity breakdown

Interactive breakdown

⁨Cars and electronics are obvious standouts, but there numerous other high-value product categories in the mix as well. The country also has a wide variety of high value exports and trading partners, lowering the risk of a trade war or industry downturn crippling the country’s economy.

Australia

Many will be surprised to learn that Australia sits in the lower third of this complexity ranking.

Although Australia’s global ranking is high in a myriad of categories – household wealth per person, for example – its economic complexity score is -0.60, much lower than expected for its income level. Looking at the breakdown below, there are clues as to why this might be the case.

australia economic complexity breakdown

Interactive breakdown

Australia’s⁩ largest exports are in ⁨low⁩ complexity categories, such as minerals and agriculture. To compound matters, the country’s economy is heavily linked to China’s. To underscore this point, a recent study found that a 5% drop in China’s GDP would result in a 2.5% dip in Australia’s.

Venezuela

It’s no secret that Venezuela has seen some tough times in recent years. The chart below shows just how reliant Venezuela was on oil exports to sustain its economy.

venezuela economic complexity breakdown

Interactive breakdown

An over-reliance on a single export can leave a country extremely vulnerable in the event of price volatility or geopolitical events. In the case of Venezuela, three quarters of their export economy was comprised of crude oil – one of the lowest scoring product categories in the ranking.

The Rush to Diversify

A low level of economic complexity isn’t necessarily a problem. Many countries with middle-to-low scores in the ranking have great standards of living and a high level of wealth. Countries like Canada, Norway, and Australia were all well down the list.

On the other hand, some countries have made diversification a priority. SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund is partially the result of Saudi Arabia’s push to develop a diversified, knowledge-based economy. Other oil-rich nations, such as Kazakhstan, are also pushing to diversify in the face of the world’s evolving energy mix.

As world economies evolve and the shift from fossil fuels continues, we will likely see economic complexity increase across the board.

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The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

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The World’s Most Used Apps by Downstream Traffic Share

The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

Everything connected to the internet takes bandwidth to view. When you look at something on your smartphone—whether it’s a new message on Instagram or the next few seconds of a YouTube video—your device is downloading the data in the background.

And the bigger the files, the more bandwidth is utilized. In this chart, we break down of the most used apps by category, using Sandvine’s global mobile traffic report for 2021 Q1.

Video Drives Global Mobile Internet Traffic

The biggest files use the most data, and video files take the cake.

According to Android Central, streaming video ranges from about 0.7GB per hour of data for a 480p video to 1.5GB per hour for 1080. A 4K stream, the highest resolution currently offered by most providers, uses around 7.2GB per hour.

That’s miles bigger than audio files, where high quality 320kbps music streams use an average of just 0.12GB per hour. Social network messages are usually just a few KB, while the pictures found on them can range from a few hundred KB for a low resolution image to hundreds of MB for high resolution.

Understandably, breaking down mobile downstream traffic by app category shows that video is on top by a long shot:

CategoryDownstream Traffic Share (2021 Q1)
Video Streaming48.9%
Social Networking19.3%
Web13.1%
Messaging6.7%
Gaming4.3%
Marketplace4.1%
File Sharing1.3%
Cloud1.1%
VPN and Security0.9%
Audio0.2%

Video streaming accounts for almost half of mobile downstream traffic worldwide at 49%. Audio streaming, including music and podcasts, accounts for just 0.2%.

Comparatively, social network and web browsing combined make up one third of downstream internet traffic. Games, marketplace apps, and file sharing, despite their large file sizes, only require one-time downloads that don’t put as big of a strain on traffic as video does.

A Handful of Companies Own the Most Used Apps

Though internet traffic data is broken down by category, it’s worth noting that many apps consume multiple types of bandwidth.

For example, messaging and social network apps, like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat, allow consumers to stream video, social network, and message.

Even marketplace apps like iTunes and Google Play consume bandwidth for video and audio streaming, and together account for 6.3% of total mobile downstream traffic.

But no single app had a bigger footprint than YouTube, which accounts for 20.4% of total global downstream bandwidth.

CategoryTop Apps (Category Traffic)Category Traffic Share
Video StreamingYouTube47.9%
Video StreamingTikTok16.1%
Video StreamingFacebook Video14.6%
Video StreamingInstagram12.1%
Video StreamingNetflix4.3%
Video StreamingOther5.0%
Social NetworkingFacebook50.5%
Social NetworkingInstagram41.9%
Social NetworkingTwitter2.4%
Social NetworkingOdnoklassniki1.9%
Social NetworkingQQ0.7%
Social NetworkingOther2.9%
MessagingWhatsApp31.4%
MessagingSnapchat16.5%
MessagingFacebook VoIP14.3%
MessagingLINE12.1%
MessagingSkype4.1%
MessagingOther21.6%
WebGoogle41.2%
WebOther58.8%

The world’s tech giants had the leading app in the four biggest data streaming categories. Alphabet’s YouTube and Google made up almost half of all video streaming and web browsing traffic, while Facebook’s own app, combined with Instagram and WhatsApp, accounted for 93% of global social networking traffic and 45% of messaging traffic.

Traffic usage by app highlights the data monopoly of tech giants and internet providers. Since just a few companies account for a majority of global smartphone internet traffic, they have a lot more bartering power (and responsibility) when it comes to our general internet consumption.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

Smartphones can contain ~80% of the stable elements on the periodic table. This graphic details the critical metals you carry in your pocket.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.

Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.

While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.

Smartphone PartCritical Metal
Touch Screen indium
Displaylanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium
Electronicsnickel, gallium, tantalum
Casingnickel, magnesium
Battery lithium, nickel, cobalt
Microphone, speakers, vibration unit nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium

What’s in Your Pocket?

This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.

1. Touch Screen

Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.

Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.

When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.

2. Display

Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.

Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.

3. Electronics

Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.

Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.

4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit

Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).

Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.

5. Casing

There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.

6. Battery

Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.

What’s Next?

Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.

As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.

This post was originally featured on Elements

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