Art for Art’s Sake? A gift to philanthropists and policymakers

Art for Art's SakeToday’s post is by Moy Eng, Senior Advisor and former Executive Director at the Community School of Music and Arts

Art for Art’s Sake? The Impact of Arts Education is a gift. Whether one is an artist, educator, policy maker, or philanthropic organization, it offers a comprehensive, cogent review of research studies, and identifies both evidence and gaps in our knowledge.  It examines the question of whether arts education helps to develop attributes for the workforce in innovation-directed economies, and lays out the next steps for potential research.  Perhaps most importantly, the authors remind us that the primary justification of arts education should be in the intrinsic value of the arts and the important habits of mind that they promote.

This study tempers what is at times a highly charged topic. When the question of public subsidy for arts education and its impact arises, assertions about the arts’ role in developing creative, innovative, and more empathetic schoolchildren emerge. Not unlike a heightened interest in the role of arts in economic and community development in the 1980’s and early 1990’s in New York City.  Arts advocates would assert its powerful impact on economic development and cite studies regarding its leverage ratios, for every dollar spent on a ticket to an arts event attracted three other dollars. As the issue became more popular and more studies were commissioned, the “artistic dividend” appeared to notably increase and one began to question the genuine leveraging potential and methodology of the economic studies.

The authors of the OECD study look methodically for evidence, and at best a causal relationship, that illustrates the impacts of arts education for schoolchildren.  A second prong of the authors’ scrutiny is the question of what, if any, benefits formal arts learning brings to other domains such as mathematics, language, the sciences and social studies. As befits these three respected researchers, especially Ellen Winner  – whose work at Harvard University’s Project Zero I’m familiar with -, their collective eye is rigorous and measured in its assessment, laying out the facts and identifying studies which have or have not demonstrated plausible evidence on the question(s) researched.  For example:

Music education strengthens IQ (intelligence quotient), academic performance, word decoding and phonological skills and there is preliminary evidence that music education might facilitate foreign language learning. While there are a number of studies showing a positive impact of music education on visual- spatial reasoning, the sole longitudinal study on this question detected no persistent influence after three years of music, which suggests the need for caution. There is also no evidence that music education has any causal impact on mathematics scores, even though mathematicians may be attracted to music.” Pg 18

As illustrated above, the reader will discover, as I did, that there is strong evidence that arts education has a positive impact on the development of certain selected skills. Yet, there is far too little research on the impact of arts education on outcomes affecting creativity, problem solving, and behavioral and social attributes, such as persistence and motivation.

A second notable aspect is the breadth of the review.  I admire the fact that the research team assessed more than 200 studies covering a sixty-year period (1950-2013). They also incorporated the engagement of and feedback from selected OECD staff members and the Center for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) governing board, as well as attendees at the OECD-France workshop, “Innovation for Education: the Role of Arts and STEM Education”, held in Paris in 2011.

The authors’ research recommendations are a clear call to strengthen our foundational knowledge of the habits of mind that each discipline may engender and their impact on learning outcomes, research on those habits of mind that may transfer to other subjects, and the methodological frameworks through which future research is conducted.

For this long-time “soloist in the choir” on the importance of arts education, I think that Art for Art’s Sake? The Impact of Arts Education is an exceptional new resource.  For my policymaker and philanthropic colleagues, I strongly suggest that you read and take note. There appears to be an opportunity for us to collaborate and invest in long overdue and seminal research studies in arts education.


Report co-author Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin talks about Art for Art’s Sake? in French to Anne-Lise Prigent

Report co-author Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin talks about Art for Art’s Sake? in English to Patrick Love

Useful Links

Arts education in innovation-driven societies by report co-authors Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin and Ellen Winner on the educationtoday blog

The impact of immigrants – it’s not what you think

Migration Outlook 2013
Click to read the report

In the land of tabloid terrors, immigrants loom large. Flick through the pages or online comments of some of the racier newspapers, and you’ll see immigrants being accused of stealing jobs or, if not that, of being workshy and “scrounging benefits”.

Such views may be at the extreme end of the spectrum, but they do seem to reflect a degree of public ambivalence, and even hostility, towards immigrants in a number of OECD countries. Anecdotal evidence is not hard to find. A columnist from The Economist reported this encounter between a British legislator and one of his constituents, Phil: “‘I’m not a racist,’ says Phil, an unemployed resident of the tough Greenwich estate in Ipswich. ‘But we’ve got to do something about them.’”

Surveys offer further evidence: For example, a 2011 study in five European countries and the United States found that at least 40% of respondents in each country regarded immigration as “more of a problem than an opportunity”. More than half the respondents in each country also agreed with the proposition that immigrants were a burden on social services. This sense that immigrants are living off the state appears to be widespread. But is it true?

New research from the OECD indicates that it’s not. In general across OECD countries, the amount that immigrants pay to the state in the form of taxes is more or less balanced by what they get back in benefits. Even where immigrants do have an impact on the public purse – a “fiscal impact” – it amounts to more than 0.5% of GDP in only ten OECD countries, and in those it’s more likely to be positive than negative. In sum, says the report, when it comes to their fiscal impact, “immigrants are pretty much like the rest of the population”.

The extent to which this finding holds true across OECD countries is striking, although there are naturally some variations. Where these exist, they largely reflect the nature of the immigrants who arrive in each country. For example, countries like Australia and New Zealand rely heavily on selective entry, and so attract a lot of relatively young and well-educated immigrants. Other countries, such as in northern Europe, have higher levels of humanitarian immigration, such as refugees and asylum-seekers.

That said, there’s been a general push in many countries in recent years to attract better educated immigrants, in part because of the economic value of their skills but also because such policies attract less public resistance. For example, a survey in the United Kingdom, where resistance to immigration is relatively high, reported that 64% of respondents wanted to reduce immigration of low-skilled workers but only 32% wanted fewer high-skilled immigrants. Indeed, one objection that’s regularly raised to lower-skilled immigrants is the fear that they will live off state benefits.

But, here again, the OECD report offers some perhaps surprising insights. It indicates that low-skilled migrants – like migrants in general – are neither a major drain nor gain on the public purse. Indeed, low-skilled immigrants are less likely to have a negative impact than equivalent locals.

Useful links

International Migration Outlook 2013

OECD work on migration

OECD Insights: International Migration

Can China feed itself?

OECD FAO Outlook 2013It could be the biggest Chinese takeover ever of a U.S. firm. But this deal doesn’t involve Silicon Valley, high-tech widgets or Hollywood stars. Instead, a Chinese firm is proposing to pay a whopping $4.7 billion for a U.S. business that produces … pork.

Shuanghui International’s offer for Smithfield Food has attracted some controversy. One U.S. senator has described it as “concerning”. Others see it more positively: According to the Financial Times, the “deal will help open the Chinese market for US meat producers”.

That’s a growing market. China’s emerging middle class is eating more, and especially more meat, and is increasingly concerned about food safety. But meeting their demands is set to become a bigger challenge as China confronts environmental and demographic issues and the impact of climate change. And that’s part of the reason why Chinese businesses are eyeing up overseas suppliers like Smithfield.

So far, China has been able to meet much of its growing demand itself: Between 1980 and 2011, agricultural output (not all of it food, of course) expanded 4.5 times, thanks in part to increased use of machinery, improved irrigation, and hybrid crops. In parallel, the number of people going hungry has fallen sharply: In 1990, around one in five Chinese was malnourished; today it’s under one in eight. Food security has also improved: In 1978, for example, rural households spent 68% of their income on food; today it’s only around 40%.

Indeed, one – unwanted – marker of China’s success in feeding itself is the rise in overweight and obese people: Between 1991 and 2006, the proportion of overweight people doubled to just under 27%, according to an OECD report.

But, as the latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook explains, maintaining the growth momentum in Chinese agriculture won’t be easy, for several reasons. The first is demographics: China’s countryside faces a double whammy of an ageing population and migration to the cities. In 1992, around 844 million people lived in the Chinese countryside; by 2022, the UN estimates that figure will fall to below 600 million. Not only will the rural population be smaller, it will also be older, meaning there will be fewer skilled workers available to manage increasingly complex farms.

Then there’s land and water, both in short supply. China has only around a quarter of the arable land per person that OECD countries have. Similarly, its water supply per person is only around a quarter the world average. And both these resources are under pressure: More than 40% of China’s arable land is classed as degraded as a result of erosion, salinisation and acidification. Soil contamination is also a concern.

And, of course, there’s climate change: China, like much of the rest of the world, appears to be seeing a rise in extreme weather events. One result is that the country’s variable water supply is becoming even more unpredictable. Droughts in the arid north are likely to become more common, while flooding will become an even more regular feature of life in the more tropical south.

Despite all these pressures, China will probably go on raising its food output. It’s likely to remain essentially self-sufficient for commodities like rice and to remain a net supplier of others – it’s the world’s top exporter of fish.

But in other areas, most notably dairy and meat products, China may rely more on imports. The bid for Smithfield Food could well be an early sign of that. There are other signs, too, of China’s changing food needs: Hong Kong, for example, has had to put a limit on purchases of baby formula to prevent mainland Chinese parents worried by a succession of food safety scares from clearing the city’s shelves. According to the BBC, retailers as far afield as London and Australia have followed suit.

Indeed, China is likely to have an increasing impact on global food markets. On the downside, that could mean a new source of volatility in the world’s food supply. But, as Craig Emerson, Australia’s trade minister pointed out at the OECD Forum, it could also open important new markets: “There’s no doubt that in Asia, and China in particular, as the middle-classes expand, they will want premium agricultural produce … they’re willing to pay a lot for safe, healthy, clean and green produce.”

Useful links

OECD work on agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

The OECD’s Chinese-language site – 网站 (中文)

OECD on Weibo – 经合组织微博

World Environment Day: Greening household behaviour

World Environment DayDo you suffer from Lord Henry Wotton syndrome? He’s the chap in Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray who said “To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable”. It’s an attitude we all have to something or other we feel is desirable, but not to the point of making much of an effort. Saving the environment falls into that category for many people, but the good news for the planet is that the OECD has identified a group of people who “believe that sacrifices will be necessary to solve environmental problems”.

These “environmentally motivated” citizens form one of three groups identified in Greening Household Behaviour, based on the Environmental Policy and Individual Behaviour Change (EPIC) survey carried out in 2011 in 12,000 households in 11 OECD countries. The other two groups are the “environmental sceptics” who believe that environmental problems are exaggerated; and the “technological optimists” who believe that the problems are real, but that technological innovations are key to solving them.

You could divide the respondents in various other ways too, by age for example. In six of the eleven countries, older respondents were more likely to agree that their own generation bore significant responsibility for solving environmental problems, and that these problems should not be simply left for future generations.

Since the report is based on a survey, it’s interesting to try to spot differences between what people say they are prepared to do, and what they actually do (and what you do you yourself). Around 60% of respondents for example said they’d be willing to pay more for electricity generated from renewable sources for instance. One that intrigued me was the 45% of people who claimed they always washed clothes in cold water. Everybody I know is part of the 12% who answered “never” to that one, but I live in profligate Paris. How about you? Do you always, often, occasionally or never turn of equipment that has a stand-by function? Look at table 3.12 to see how you compare.

Apart from water and energy, the survey covers transport, waste generation, recycling, and food consumption, the theme of this year’s World Environment Day. The UN chose food to highlight the fact that while 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 will die today from hunger, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

We talked about this subject a few years ago on the blog, following the publication of a UK report that estimated that the average household threw away food and drink worth £40 ($65) per month, or around 15% of the shopping budget. Respondents to the Greening Household Behaviour survey report that approximately 10% of food is thrown away. There is a big difference from one country to another, ranging from 6% in France to 14% in Israel and 15% in Korea. Younger respondents report higher levels of food waste. Those concerned with natural resource depletion are less likely to throw food away.

They’re also more likely to buy organic, but here the cross-country differences are even more striking. Australians and Canadians aren’t really willing to pay much more for organic fruit and vegetables (a 5% price increase), while Koreans would accept a 23% hike. The reported willingness-to-pay for meat and poultry that takes animal welfare into account varies from 10% to 20%. Surprisingly (to me at least) the report says that “no significant pattern is found between income and expenditure […] for organic fruit and vegetables nor for meat and poultry labelled as taking animal welfare into account”.

Demand for electricity is another behaviour that doesn’t depend on income levels, but in this case the poor don’t have alternative choices. So without additional policy measures, they’re likely to suffer as a result of higher energy prices. Likewise, water conservation could be improved by according needs-based grants for water efficiency investments, or giving grants to tenants, who often don’t agree to pay to improve a home they don’t own.

How about this household? My colleague Liisa-Maija Harju has been looking at whether the OECD practices what it preaches regarding sustainable buildings, water use and waste management. To mark World Environment Day, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria has announced that the Organisation will be introducing a carbon pricing initiative based on an internal “carbon tax” on air travel of €20 per tonne to “reflect the cost of carbon emissions in OECD staff travel [and] encourage management and staff to give greater consideration to environmental aspects in making their travel decisions and arrangements”.

As Douglas Adams says in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport.”

Useful links

Serge Tomasi of OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate on Putting green growth at the heart of development

OECD work on the environment

OECD work on green growth and sustainable development

World Environment Day: Putting green growth at the heart of development

World Environment DayThis post is from Serge Tomasi, Deputy Director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

Over the past 20 years, the global development landscape has changed dramatically. At the same time, we face unprecedented global challenges and growing instability, with looming financial and economic crises, and growing unemployment, food insecurity, political instability and environmental threats.

In my view, the latter is probably the biggest of our challenges, as it is long term and will have a severe impact on developing countries for several reasons. Environmental degradation is already very costly in developing countries, where the share of national wealth that is embedded in natural assets is much higher than in developed economies. In these countries, already vulnerable groups of people, such as the rural poor, are highly dependant on natural resources. Without policy shifts to limit climate change and address other environmental risks, the pace of rising temperatures and growing water shortages will lead to alarming impacts concentrated in developing countries.

This includes food security problems in poor countries, where a dramatic increase in demand for food is expected by 2050 (by 50-70% in developing countries as a whole and by 100% in LICs). This combined with growing food price volatility could exacerbate already existing food security risks. Energy access and energy security are also pressing challenges for many countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than two-thirds of the population has no access to electricity today. Last but not least, demographic trends – such as rapid urbanisation – point to a need for dramatic increases in investment in new infrastructure. Without policy changes, infrastructure investments run the risk of being locked-in to outdated, polluting transportation and other systems, with large, negative impacts on human health and well-being in developing countries.

On the other hand, the success story of economic growth in a large set of developing countries – mainly in Asia and Latin America – is very impressive. We have learned from this experience that strong economic growth over the long term is critical is we want to dramatically reduce absolute poverty. But we have to learn also from the negative side of these experiences, including the challenges these emerging countries are now facing now with regard to environmental and sustainability.

Over the past few years, the OECD has been promoting a new growth model – a more sustainable and inclusive one. In 2011, an OECD ministerial meeting endorsed the OECD Green Growth Strategy, aiming to boost economic growth while preserving the natural assets on which our well being depends.

Today OECD has launched a new report – Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Development. It puts our expertise in green growth – and the experience of numerous developing countries – at the service of developing country policy makers who are committed to designing and implementing green growth strategies and policies. It recognises that economic growth is a key part of any national poverty reduction strategy, but also shows that environmental protection is a strategic asset in contributing to national wealth and the well-being of current and future generations. it poses the challenge of reconciling economic growth and environmental protection, and gives examples of how this can be effectively done. In short, it makes the case for promoting sustainable growth as a critical element of sustainable development.

As OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said: “We are working to ensure that sustainable development and inclusive, green growth remain centre- stage in everything we do. We cannot afford to do otherwise.”

 Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Development was prepared through intensive joint work with developing countries – mainly low-income countries – and with a wide group of development co-operation partners. It reviews nearly 80 policies and initiatives from 37 developing countries as well as regional green-growth initiatives.

The many examples described in the report present a clear and hopeful message: green growth can generate both wealth and well-being for citizens of current and future generations. The report also examines the trade-offs between short-term demands and longer-term impacts, and the need to make choices that will deliver a more stable and sustainable future while also ensuring immediate gains.

Beyond the national policy agenda, international cooperation can provide essential support to developing countries in managing a transition to green growth. Financing green infrastructure, strengthening access to international markets, boosting trade in green products and services, and promoting technological transfer and cooperation are key.

Useful links

OECD work on green growth and sustainable development

OECD work on development