ShareThis Page
Featured Commentary

Andres Oppenheimer: Oscar nominations aside, Latin America lagging in innovation

| Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Michael Shannon (from left), Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in a scene from 'The Shape of Water.' Guillermo del Toro's Cold War fantasy tale received a leading 13 nominations for the 90th annual Academy Awards.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Michael Shannon (from left), Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in a scene from 'The Shape of Water.' Guillermo del Toro's Cold War fantasy tale received a leading 13 nominations for the 90th annual Academy Awards.

It's great news for Mexico that Guillermo del Toro's movie “The Shape of Water” got the most nominations for the upcoming Oscars. Many other Latin American countries should be equally proud of having hundreds of similar world-class innovators at home and abroad. But a new ranking of the world's most innovative countries should give them cause for concern.

The Bloomberg 2018 Innovation Index says there is not one single Latin American country among the world's 50 most innovative nations.

That should be raising alarm bells in Latin America, and be a cause of concern for President Trump and other U.S. officials who are obsessed with illegal immigration. Countries that don't innovate and produce increasingly sophisticated goods face a mediocre economic future, poverty and continued emigration.

Unlike other rankings that take into account wider economic criteria such as the bureaucratic hurdles that entrepreneurs face, this one focuses strictly on innovation. It weighs things such as countries' research-and-development expenditures as a percentage of their economies, the number of patents per 1 million inhabitants and their percentage of high-tech companies.

Considering the size of their economies, Latin American countries should be doing much better in this ranking.

I asked Alec Ross, author of “The industries of the Future” and former top innovation adviser to the State Department during the Obama administration, if he is surprised by the absence of Latin American countries in this index.

“It's not surprising, but it's sad,” Ross told me. “While there are some great entrepreneurs in Chile, Brazil or Mexico City, too often the great talent leaves the country. They go to California, they go to Texas, they go to London.

“The region needs to create an environment so that a 23-year-old genius from Buenos Aires does not feel like she needs to move to California to start her company,” Ross said.

Ross, who is running for governor of Maryland, said one of the biggest problems for innovators in Latin America, in addition to excessive regulations, is lack of access to capital.

“One criticism I have of Latin American countries is that what's more important than anything else when you are trying to get investment is who's your family, who's your mother, who's your father, and whether your family has business relationships,” he said. “In the United States, that's not the case. ... Investors only care about your idea. All they want is to make money.

“So I think that governments, working with the private sector, working with the banks, working with venture capitalists, need to address what I believe are some of these cultural constraints.”

I agree. But, more important, Latin American countries should start by putting innovation and modernization at the center of their political agendas.

The fact that this ranking went almost unnoticed in the region is worrying. The index is either wrong, in which case it should be shown to be mistaken, or it should be the No. 1 topic of discussion in many countries — and a wake-up call for the region.

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me