As residents of one of the world’s economic giants, it’s easy to take our standard of living for granted and assume we will always be able to enjoy the best of what science and innovation have to offer. While no one is suggesting the United States will lose its status as world leader, a good reality check is in order.


According to two recent studies, the United States lags behind other nations in several categories. These indicators measure a country’s ability to meet the needs of its economy and its people, focusing on power consumption and technology usage.


The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness 
Report 2013–2014 assesses the competitive landscape of 148 national economies. According to the report, the United States ranks fifth in competitiveness. The forum defines competitiveness as a “set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country.” 


While fifth place may disappoint some champions of the U.S. economy, the report is not all bad. The United States ranks first in terms of its efficiency enhancers, which include such factors as higher education, labor, financial and goods markets that contribute to an efficient economy. It also ranks sixth in innovation and sophistication factors. Also on the positive side, the United States has improved its overall ranking after having declined for four consecutive years.


However, there are a number of categories in which the United States did not score well. Its poor showing in these areas should serve as a wake-up call for policy-makers and others who have the ability to affect change in the nation’s competitive environment. For example, the United States ranks 15th in infrastructure and technological readiness, two strong indicators of the nation’s ability to meet the challenges of the new energy economy and the digital age.


A more relevant indicator, the United States ranked 30th in quality of its electricity supply. A second study by the forum underscores the challenges in this area. According to the Global Energy Architecture Report released in December, the United States ranks 37th in the world in energy architecture, which is a country’s ability to deliver a secure, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy supply.


Norway ranks first on the list, and the only country from the Americas that broke the top 10 is Costa Rica, which ranks ninth in large part because of its commitment to generating 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2021.