By Kurt Badenhausen Forbes StaffSource: Forbes.comDuring the run-up to every U.S. presidential election, countless Americans threaten to move to Canada if their preferred candidate does not emerge victorious. Of course, few follow through with a move north. Maybe it is time to reconsider.
Canada ranks No. 1 in our annual look at the Best Countries for Business. While the U.S. is paralyzed by fears of a double-dip recession and Europe struggles with sovereign debt issues, Canada’s economy has held up better than most. The $1.6 trillion economy is the ninth biggest in the world and grew 3.1% last year. It is expected to expand 2.4% in 2011, according to the Royal Bank of Canada.
Canada skirted the banking meltdown that plagued the U.S. and Europe. Banks like Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia and Bank of Montreal avoided bailouts and were profitable during the financial crises that started in 2007. Canadian banks emerged from the tumult among the strongest in the world thanks to their conservative lending practices.
Canada is the only country that ranks in the top 20 in 10 metrics that we considered to determine the Best Countries for Business (we factored in 11 overall). It ranks in the top five for both investor protection as well as lack of red tape, which measures how easy it is to start a business.
Canada moves up from No. 4 in last year’s ranking thanks to its improved tax standing. It ranks ninth overall for tax burden compared to No. 23 in 2010. Credit a reformed tax structure with a Harmonized Sales Tax introduced in Ontario and British Columbia in 2010. The goal is to make Canadian businesses more competitive. Canada’s tax status also improved thanks to reduced corporate and employee tax rates.
Canada leans on the U.S. economy heavily: it’s the biggest oil supplier to Uncle Sam and three-quarters of its exports end up in the U.S. each year. Yet while U.S. unemployment has stayed above 9%, it’s only 7.3% in Canada compared to the 25-year average of 8.5%. The eurozone unemployment rate is 10%.
We determined the Best Countries for Business by looking at 11 different factors for 134 countries. We considered property rights, innovation, taxes, technology, corruption, freedom (personal, trade and monetary), red tape, investor protection and stock market performance.
Forbes leaned on research and published reports from the Central Intelligence Agency, Freedom House, Heritage Foundation, Property Rights Alliance, Transparency International, the World Bank and World Economic Forum to compile the rankings.
Denmark dropped from the top spot in 2010 to No. 5 this year as its relative monetary freedom declined as measured by the Heritage Foundation. Denmark’s stock market also fell 14%, which was the worst performance of any of our top 10 countries. Four other European countries in last year’s top 20 also dropped in the rankings, with Finland sliding to No. 13, the Netherlands to No. 15 Netherlands, Germany to No. 21 and Iceland to No. 23.
The U.S. ranked No. 10, down from No. 9 in 2010. The world’s largest economy at $14.7 trillion continues to be one of the most innovative, ranking sixth in patents per capita among all countries (No.7 overall Sweden ranks tops for innovation).
What hurts the U.S. is its heavy tax burden. This year it surpassed Japan to have the highest corporate tax rate among developed countries. The U.S. also gets dinged for a poor showing on monetary freedom as measured by the Heritage Foundation. Heritage gauges price stability and price controls and the U.S. ranks No. 50 out of 134 countries.
Bringing up the rear are three countries where the economies are smaller than $10 billion. No. 132 Burundi, No. 133 Zimbabwe and No. 134 Chad all fare poorly when it comes to trade and monetary freedom as well as innovation and technology. Chad has the highest GDP per capita of the three at $1,600, but scores last among all countries on both corruption and red tape.