Did you realize that the United States and Finland have been duking it out in recent years for the title of "most competitive economy"? We didn't think so.

But it's true. We beat Finland last year, but this year that country grabbed top honors, with the U.S. in second place. The ranking in question comes from the 2003 Global Competitiveness Report, published by the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum (WEF). In the WEF's own words, "The survey attempts to quantify the impact of a number of key factors which contribute to create the conditions for sustained growth, with particular focus on the macroeconomic environment, the quality of the country's institutions, and the state of the country's technology and supporting infrastructure."

Here's how some of the 102 nations ranked in the study:

  1. Finland2. United States3. Sweden4. Denmark5. Taiwan6. Singapore7. Switzerland8. Iceland9. Norway10. Australia11. Japan13. Germany15. United Kingdom16. Canada20. Israel28. Chile44. China47. Mexico56. India70. Russia

Some other tidbits:

  • Together, the 102 countries make up 98% of the world's economy.

  • The lowest-ranking five, in descending order: Bangladesh, Mali, Angola, Chad, and Haiti.

  • At 70th place, Russia fell from its 66th place perch last year. Cited as reasons were high inflation, banking inefficiencies, and weakness in its institutions.

  • While the U.S. scored well on the technology front, it did less spectacularly on factors such as the quality of its public institutions and macroeconomic environment, particularly public finances.

  • Japan has been moving up, scoring well on technology strength and technical innovation. The Republic of Korea is also advancing, thanks to an improving macroeconomic environment and technology.

  • In the Middle East, Jordan scored fairly well (34th place), while Botswana (36th) led Africa.

If you're looking to invest internationally, these rankings might help you frame your thinking about various nations and how they compare.

But if you really want to invest internationally (and conventional wisdom often suggests that it can be good to diversify your investments with some global goods), consider doing so without leaving home. That's right -- why take chances investing in countries you don't understand too well, or countries with (despite our own recent scandals) corporate governance and public accounting practices that aren't as good as ours? There are many American companies that generate large chunks of their earnings from abroad -- firms such as McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), IBM (NYSE:IBM), Motorola (NYSE:MOT), and Gillette (NYSE:G).