“One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and no countries and the only passport will be the heart”Carlos Santana, 1947-
Like it or not, and plenty don’t share Santana’s optimism, everything—ideas, capital, goods, people, disease, conflict—flows more easily across borders than ever before. Such openness, such globalization as it is also known, has gone into reverse in the past, most notably thanks to the 1914-18 war, and plenty of politicians today, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen, claim to want to build walls and close doors once again. Nevertheless, modern technology would make it harder to reverse this openness fundamentally, barring a third world war, than it was after 1918. And in a world in which knowledge sets the competitive agenda, and innovation plays such a major part, the cost of cutting yourself off from the best ideas and people is rising. It is hard to be world-class if you aren’t connected to the world.
The Wake Up 2050 Index firmly takes the view that openness is a virtue, over the long term. This is linked to the idea that competition, under clear and accepted rules, leads to improving standards in all things, so more competition, from whoever is best in the world, must be better than less. It is also linked to the idea that all our societies need to be able to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances – indeed, that that evolutionary and adaptive ability is one of the main explanations for Western success – and that openness facilitates evolution, especially the steady, gradual sort that is easier to cope with. Moreover, it rests, too, on the observation that many of the greatest innovations in science, business or society have arisen when people from different backgrounds and with different ideas are able to mingle and to converse. Or, as the British science writer Matt Ridley put it in his 2010 book, “The Rational Optimist”, “when ideas have sex”.
How to measure and compare such promiscuousness, such willing exposure to the bracing winds of competition and change? There is one big difficulty, beyond controversy over the very notion of openness: it is that openness for a large country such as the United States, say, looks rather different to openness for a tiny place such as Luxembourg or Latvia. Whatever North Korea may think, small countries have little choice but to be open if they wish to prosper. Big countries have many of the benefits of openness within themselves, in the competition between companies or universities in Texas and New York. Moreover since openness is typically measured in proportion to the entity being observed, a larger country may look less open even if it is well connected.
So we would welcome suggestions for how to deal with this issue, as indeed for what are the most pertinent measures to use. We began by looking at levels of foreign-direct investment as a share of GDP, and added to those measures of trade. From the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETF) and its KOF Globalisation Index we extracted an interesting and helpful measure of how much each country puts constraints on trade and on capital flows.
Charting the sexual habits of ideas is a tad tricky. As a probably controversial proxy we have used the share of populations that are foreign-born. So higher levels of immigration would represent greater openness, but also a greater likelihood that the openness will bring innovations and creativity. That needs to be seen alongside the measures used under the Resilience topic, since rapid immigration clearly also puts social and political institutions under strain. Switzerland, with both strong institutions and high levels of foreign-born residents, would be an example of country benefiting from this form of openness. It also scores highly on our final measure, namely the number of international students attending its universities.