The Economist lauded Australia in a recent report as the next Golden State whose resource boom and sound economic management will ensure its prosperity for a considerable period of time. When I last returned to Singapore, I was asked a question by a university professor who had supervised me and whom I have maintained contact with over the years. He asked in what ways was Australia better than Singapore as he was skeptical about the choice of people migrating from Singapore to Australia. Indeed, there are many Asians who were attracted to Australia but eventually returned to their home countries after failing to obtain good employment in Australia.

I feel that Australia and Singapore both have positive and negative points, with regards to settling down. However, I have not seriously thought about how Australia measures up in various areas relative to other countries. Whenever Singapore scores highly in some global rankings, these news will always be prominently reported by the Singapore’s media. I hardly come across reporting of Australia’s ranking here so I thought it may be worthwhile to do some online research in this area.

I have compiled five tables below, showing various indicators (economic, social, political, etc), the assessing body, the year of assessment, Australia’s rank/score and the top-ranking country. I came from Singapore and naturally have an interest in knowing how Singapore fares relative to other nations so I have also included Singapore’s rankings for the various measures. I have provided hyperlinks and references so you can click them to find the rank and score for any country. Australia’s rank and score for the previous assessment year is also provided, for comparison against the current assessment. The legend at the end of this post displays the ranking organizations and their abbreviations.

So what do I learn from these statistics? Australia performs pretty well, especially relative to other OECD countries. However, for most measures, it is not among the cream of the crop in the top elite group of countries. This sentiment of “falling short” or “not excellent enough” was expressed by the Economist in the same report: “Some Australians talk big but actually think small……All these (plans) are under way, but few are surging ahead. Though the country’s best-known building is an opera house, for example, the arts have yet to receive as much official patronage as they deserve…..Australia’s universities, like its wine, are decent and dependable, but seldom excellent.

It is interesting to note that the northern European countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Ireland) and alpine countries (Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) feature prominently in many indicators. They are all temperate countries with beautiful landscapes and most are sparsely populated. I do not know if the climate contributes to their high rankings. The notable exceptions to this “rule” are Singapore, Hong Kong and Qatar, all characterized by being small, fast-pace, competitive, highly-adaptive, resilient and with uncomfortable temperatures.

Australia performs extremely well for the Human Development Index HDI (ranked second), Education Index 2007 (1st), World Giving Index (1st), Legatum Prosperity Index (4th), Quality of Life Index 2005 (6th) and Democracy Index (6th).

I am very surprised that Singapore was ranked 52nd for the Education Index in 2007 and 92th in 2006. This is somewhat strange as some inconspicuous countries such as Barbados (16th), Kazakhstan (23rd) and Guyana (39th) were ranked much ahead of Singapore. I can accept the possibility that the older Singaporeans may have received less education due to Singapore achieving its prosperity within 1-2 generations. However, its extremely low ranking still runs against my ingrained knowledge of the importance that Singapore attaches to education. For instance, the National University of Singapore was ranked 34th, higher than the University of Melbourne (ranked 36th), the top ranking Australian university in the 2010 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Singapore students also excelled in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), having achieved second in Mathematics, fourth in Science and fifth in Reading. This anomaly makes me skeptical of the underlying methodology and criteria used. As the Education Index forms part of the HDI in 2007, this inevitably leads me to question the reliability of the HDI.

Australians are people of great generosity, as seen by its number one place in the World Giving Index. In contrast, Singapore ranks towards the bottom at 91th place, despite several high-profile televised charities fundraising events each year. It is notable that Singapore fares poorly for the Democracy and Press Freedom Index, presumably because the ruling politicians have deemed the western models of democracy to be unsuitable for Singapore.

In a recent interview with the Age, James Packer said that Australia is targeting the wrong segment of the tourist market, that is, the faraway European and American backpackers on a shoestring budget. Australia should rather be aiming for the affluent, rising, high-spending and geographically-closer middle-class Asian market. According to the latest World Economic Forum figures, Australia’s global ranking in travel and tourism competitiveness has dived from 4th place in 2008 to 13th place in 2011 while Singapore has moved up from 16th place to 10th over the same period. Singapore is on target to reach $S30 billion ($A22.75 billion) revenue and 17 million visitors by 2015. Australia apparently has fallen behind its competitors in what it is able to offer to tourists in terms of attractions, infrastructure and services.

Australia’s rankings also appear to have slipped for most other indicators (red for decline, blue for gain in ranking). This resonates with the advice of caution against complacency given in another recent Economist report: “this era of prosperity and self-confidence should be a good time for Australians to take stock and confront any problems. On the face of it, their troubles are few: in 20 years of radical change all the obvious economic issues have been dealt with. Things are good, and the beach beckons. Certainly, the politicians seem unworried. Though they talk of reform, they spend most of their time scrapping about issues like climate change. A slight whiff of complacency pervades the groves of the capital, Canberra. That in itself should be a warning.

I will attempt to discuss about Australia’s economy in a separate post.

Table 1: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and GDP per capita

Measures Pub Publisher Year Rank (Score) No. 1 Country (Score) Singapore’s Rank (Score)
GDP (Nominal) per capita
Ref IMF 2010 7
(US$55,590)
Luxembourg
(US$108,832)
15
(US$43,117)
GDP (Nominal) per capita Ref World Bank 2009 16
(US$42,279)
Monaco
(US$186,175)
22
(US$36,537)
GDP (Nominal) per capita Ref CIA 2000-2010 6
(US$56,700)
Qatar
(US$150,400)
8
(US$49,800)
GDP (PPP) per capita
Ref IMF 2010 10
($39,699)
Qatar
($88,559)
3
($52,839)
GDP (PPP) per capita Ref World Bank 2009 12
($39,539)
Qatar
($91,379)
6
($50,633)
GDP (PPP) per capita Ref CIA 2010 11
($41,300)
Qatar
($145,300)
5
($57,200)
GDP (Nominal) Ref IMF 2010 13
(US$1,235,539m)
US
(US$14,657,800m)
39
(US$222,699m)
GDP (Nominal) Ref World Bank 2009 13
(US$924,843m)
US
(US$14,119,000m)
42
(US$182,232m)
GDP (Nominal) Ref CIA 2010 13
(US$1,236,000m)
US
(US$14,660,000m)
39
(US$222,700m)
GDP (PPP) Ref IMF 2010 17
($882,362m)
US
($14,657,800m)
39
($291,712m)
GDP (PPP) Ref World Bank 2009 17
($858,168m)
US
($14,119,000m)
46
($252,898m)
GDP (PPP) Ref CIA 2010 17
($882,400m)
US
($14,660,000m)
39
($291,900m)


Table 2: Economic Indicators

Measures Pub Publisher Year Rank (Score) Previous Assessment Year Rank No. 1 Country (Score) Singapore’s Rank (Score)
Global Competitiveness Index Ref WEF 2010-2011 16
(5.11)
15
(5.15)
Switzerland
(5.63)
3
(5.48)
Ease of Doing Business Index Ref World Bank 2011 10 9 Singapore 1
Index of Economic Freedom Ref Heritage Foundation&WSJ 2011 3
(82.5)
3
(82.6)
Hong Kong
(89.7)
2
(87.2)
Economic Freedom of the World Ref Fraser Instittute 2008 8
(7.9)
9
(7.89)
Hong Kong
(9.05)
2
(8.7)
Globalization Index Ref KOF 2011 22
(81.41)
19
(83.82)
Belgium
(92.60)
18
(84.39)
Globalization Index Ref A.T.Kearney 2007 13 8 Singapore
1
Economic Globalization Ref KOF 2011 45
(73)
  Singapore
(96.8)
1
(96.8)
Global Enabling Trade Index Ref WEF 2010 15
(5.13)
14 Singapore
(6.06)
1
(6.06)
Travel &Tourism Competitiveness Index Ref WEF 2011 13
(5.15)
  Switzerland
(5.68)
10
(5.23)
International Tourists Arrivals Ref UNWTO 2009 40
(5.6m)
(5.6m) France
(74.2m)
30
(7.5m)
International Tourism Receipts Ref UNWTO 2009 8
(US$25.6b)
(US$24.8b) US
(US$93.9b)
28
(US$9.2b)


Table 3: Education, Technology and Innovation Indicators

Measures Pub Publisher Year Rank (Score) Previous Assessment Year Rank No. 1 Country (Score) Singapore’s Rank (Score)
e-readiness Ref EIU 2010 9
(8.21)
6
(8.45)
Sweden
(8.49)
8
(8.22)
Global Innovation Index Ref BCG, NAM & MI 2008 22
(1.02)
  Singapore
(2.45)
1
(2.45)
Global Innovation Index Ref INSEAD 2009-2010 18
(4.28)
  Iceland
(4.86)
7
(4.65)
Patents in force Ref WIPO 2008 13
(107,699)
  US
(1,872,872)
Patents granted Ref WIPO 2008 15
(4,386)
  Japan
(239,338)
(1,369)
Patents applied Ref WIPO 2008 14
(11,230)
  Japan
(502,054)
(3,635)
Education Index Ref UNDP 2007 1
(0.993)
1
(0.993)
5 countries
(0.993)
52
(0.913)
Student Assessment (Maths) Ref PISA 2009 15
(514)
  Shanghai, China
(600)
2
(562)
Student Assessment (Science) Ref PISA 2009 10
(527)
8
(527)
Shanghai, China
(575)
4
(5.42)
Student Assessment (Reading) Ref PISA 2009 9
(515)
7
(513)
Shanghai, China
(556)
5
(526)


Table 4: Social, Development, Liveability and Environment Indicators

Measures Pub Publisher Year Rank (Score) Previous Assessment Year Rank No. 1 Country (Score) Singapore’s Rank (Score)
Human Development Index Ref UNDP 2010 2
(0.937)
2
(0.935)
Norway
(0.938)
27
(0.846)
Global Gender Gap Index Ref WEF 2010 23
(0.7271)
20
(0.7282)
Iceland
(0.8496)
56
(0.6914)
Social Globalization Ref KOF 2011 16
(82.48)
  Switzerland
(92.36)
22
(78.81)
Legatum Prosperity Index Ref Legatum 2010 4
(3.059)
6 Norway
(3.375)
17
(2.040)
Quality-of-life index Ref EIU 2005 6
(7.925)
  Ireland
(8.333)
11
(7.719)
Satisfaction with Life Index Ref Adrian White 2006 26
(243.33)
  Denmark
(273.5)
53
(230)
World Giving Index Ref Charities Aid Foundation 2010 1
(57%)
  Australia
(57%)
91
(27%)
Environmental Performance Index Ref Yale & Columbia University 2010 51
(65.7)
46
(79.8)
Iceland
(93.5)
28
(69.6)
CO2 emission Ref CDIAC 2007 15
(1.35%)
  China
(22.3%)
56
(0.18%)

 

Table 5: Political and Governance Indicators

Measures Pub Publisher Year Rank (Score) Previous Assessment Year Rank No. 1 Country (Score) Singapore’s Rank (Score)
Composite Index of National Capability Ref J. David Singer 2007 28
(0.007113)
  China
(0.198578)
48
(0.003226)
Corruption Perceptions Index Ref TI 2010 8
(8.7)
8
(8.7)
Denmark, NZ, Sin
(9.3)
1
(9.3)
Democracy Index Ref EIU 2010 6
(9.22)
  Norway
(9.80)
82
(5.89)
Press Freedom Index Ref Reporters without Borders 2010 18
(5.38)
16
(3.13)
6 countries
(0.00)
136
(47.50)
Political Globalization Ref KOF 2011 24
(91.71)
  France
(98.43)
77
(75.05)
Global Peace Index Ref IEP 2011 18
(1.455)
19
(1.467)
Iceland
(1.148)
24
(1.585)

 

Legend:

  • BCG = Boston Consulting Group
  • CDIAC = Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center
  • CIA = Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook
  • IEP = Institute for Economics and Peace
  • EIU = Economist Intelligence Unit
  • MI = The Manufacturing Institute
  • NAM = National Association of Manufacturers
  • PISA = Programme for International Student Assessment
  • PPP =Purchasing Power Parity
  • T1 = Transparency International
  • UNDP = United Nations Development Programme
  • UNWTO = United Nations World Tourism Organization
  • WEF = World Economic Forum
  • WIPO = World Intellectual Property Organization
  • WSJ = The Wall Street Journal