Happy birthday to us!

Some of you may have noticed our new logo. It’s to celebrate the OECD’s anniversary. The OECD’s founding convention was signed 50 years ago this week, and today our Secretary-General Angel Gurria is at the Elysée, the French presidential palace, to mark the occasion at the launch of France’s presidency of the G20.

So, what does the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development do? One answer would be that it improves people’s lives by helping governments to design better policies. Another answer would be that it works alongside governments to understand the forces of economic, social and environmental change and to devise policies based on facts and comparative data.

It sets international standards on an astonishing range of things from the quality of cucumbers to the safety of nuclear power plants. It compares how well schools all over the world are doing their job. It measures global flows of investment and trade, but also how much leisure time women and men have. You could even say that it makes life harder too – for terrorists, tax dodgers, polluters, and crooked businessmen.

Although we’re celebrating our fiftieth, the OECD’s origins go back much farther. In 1920, Australian artist Will Dyson published a cartoon about the Versailles Peace Treaty. The treaty marked the formal end to the First World War, but in Dyson’s drawing, we see a baby behind a pillar, and Clemenceau, the French President, is saying “Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping”. By the time that baby was old enough to join the army, the Second World War had broken out.

When that war ended, leaders were determined to avoid the mistakes of the past and realised that the best way to ensure lasting peace was to encourage co-operation and reconstruction, and not to punish the defeated.

The Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was established to run the Marshall Plan in 1947. While US financing was important, it was actually by making individual European governments recognise the interdependencies of their economies that the US made its greatest contribution to the economic rebirth of Europe.

The success of the OEEC and the prospect of carrying forward its work beyond Europe, led Canada and the US to join OEEC members in signing the new OECD Convention on 14 December 1960.  Others followed, starting with Japan in 1964, and now 34 member countries worldwide regard it as normal to turn to one another, within the OECD, to help identify problems; analyse them; share experiences; and devise solutions. Another 100 other countries also take part in OECD work.

The OECD has been at the forefront of efforts to address several global challenges. Many international agreements on the environment started out within the Organisation, from applying the polluter pays principle to international policy in the 1970s, to setting the frameworks for carbon trading as a weapon against climate change today. The OECD started examining the public policy implications of the Internet economy just a year after Amazon issued its initial public offering of stock and before most of today’s biggest sites went public.

The crisis and recession that marked the end of the first decade of the 21st century bring new challenges. Some of these, we hope, will be short term only, such as restoring public finances and bringing down unemployment, but the events of the recent past have prompted the OECD to ask questions about the very fundamentals of a market economy such as trust and sources of growth, and also what we actually mean by progress.

Useful links

Visit the new OECD website to find out more about the topics mentioned above.

Patrick Love

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