Productive Economies for Inclusive Societies: #OECD Forum 2016

FORUM2016Anthony Gooch, Director of the OECD Forum and the Public Affairs & Communications Directorate of OECD

This time last year, the OECD Forum took place on the eve of an unprecedented series of UN and G20 international summits with the potential to shape global governance for decades to come.  In hindsight, 2015 proved to be an outstanding year for international collaboration, with governments around the world coming together to agree on ambitious goals to promote sustainable development, address climate change and deliver fairer more transparent international tax rules. On the eve of OECD Forum 2016, the focus shifts to the hard work of implementation , in the midst of slow and uneven recovery from the Crisis, an ongoing international refugee and migration crisis and an upsurge in acts of international terrorism.

We will be looking for answers to three overarching questions:

  • How can the positive momentum of international collaboration from 2015 be carried through to the tough task of implementing the noble undertakings embodied in the various agreements?
  • How can we kick start global productivity so as to deliver inclusive growth?
  • How should we address the need for a new societal contract and relevant policy frameworks for an era of digitalisation?

International Collaboration

Implementation of the SDGs, COP21 and G20 Tax Standards will require a holistic approach to inter-related economic, social and environmental issues from governments and non-governmental stakeholders alike. The Forum will address what will need to change given that the SDGs are now a global responsibility and targeted at countries at all levels of development. Civil society leaders such as Save the Children’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former Danish Prime Minister are uniquely positioned to help map out what’s now required.

Successful international collaboration means all stakeholders in society working together. The role of the business community is vital in itself, as is the way it works together with government to ensure a fair deal for all. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the most comprehensive set of recommendations by government to business on Responsible Business Conduct (RBC).  With the widening and deepening of globalisation, the Guidelines are more relevant than ever, but the role of business in society has evolved from the charitable and voluntary endeavours associated with Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) to the more stringent expectations of RBC. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi will be sharing his insights of what can go wrong and why and how it can be corrected.

Tax is one of the clearest examples of how international collaboration is the only avenue to resolve major problems given that nationally-based tax systems are inadequate to deal with international financial flows.  The OECD-G20 BEPS project equips governments with the domestic and international instruments needed to tackle the issues. Effective exchange of information between countries, allows governments to better tax capital and capital income, and in turn raises issues about the effectiveness if the redistribution of wealth especially in countries where working-age benefits have not kept pace with real wages and taxes have become less progressive.

These discussions take place against the backdrop of the leak of the Panama Papers, revealing  the practices of the rich and powerful in hiding money offshore, a timely reminder of how much is still left to do to implement transparency when the gap between rich and poor is at its highest level for 30 years in most countries.

Productivity and inclusive growth

Clear and troubling evidence has emerged in recent years of the disappearance of productivity growth at a time of rising inequalities. It is natural that we should ask ourselves if these phenomena are interrelated.  We can no longer assume that technological and related innovations in processes and business models will automatically lead to better economic performance and stronger productivity growth. There is no guarantee that the benefits of higher levels of growth, or higher levels of productivity in certain sectors, will be shared across the population as a whole. Indeed, there is a risk of a vicious cycle developing, with the “bottom 40%” with fewer skills and poorer access to opportunities often confined to low productivity, precarious jobs, and the informal economy. At firm-level, too, a few big fish and cutting edge winners may leave the rest behind

The Forum will examine the nexus between productivity and inequality, identifying knowledge gaps, and seeking to chart policies that both boost productivity and tackle inequality. The role of corporate finance has also been examined both in entrenching the division between the haves and the have-nots and for its potential to unleash strong productivity gains.

To help us continue questioning assumptions about how the economy works and how we analyse these workings, we will welcome speakers such as Diane Coyle who asks whether traditional measures of productivity are suited to today’s “weightless” economy and César Hidalgo, who argues that understanding the nature of economic growth requires us to transcend the social sciences to include the natural sciences of information, networks, and complexity.  Award-winning author Paul Mason will present his vision a future of “Postcapitalism” and the internationally renowned Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena will open our eyes to the contribution to be made to productivity and inclusive growth by architecture.

The social sciences still provide a useful lens through which to address key issues, though, and we will be looking at access to quality jobs when the workforce is ageing but 75 million young people are unemployed worldwide. Similarly, tackling gender inequality is central to increasing productivity and inclusiveness, so we will focus on the role of women in the workplace, girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), and the social, cultural, legal, and political barriers to gender equality and the consequences of these. How appropriate then that Forum favourite, Michele Bachelet should  return in her capacity as President of Chile and Chair of the 2016 OECD Ministerial Meeting.

Migrants are another social group with specific needs and rights. The Forum will also tackle the sensitive issue of the economic, social and political impact of the sudden, large influx of immigrants and refugees into Europe and how best to meet the integration challenge.

Digitalisation of Society

The digitalisation of nearly every facet of the economy and society has become increasingly apparent in recent years. While this revolution holds many promises to spur innovation, increase productivity and improve services, it creates new dilemmas not least the fact that policy frameworks developed in a pre-digital era are not fit for digital purpose and that many people feel marginalised or threatened by accelerated change. It poses fundamental questions regarding the sort of society we want in this digital age and societal contract to deliver it.

Our IdeaFactory on the Digitalisation of Society will provide valuable impetus to a new OECD project on the Digitalisation of the Economy & Society. We will address the changing role of the State as well as the ethical, social and technical dilemmas digitalisation provokes. In the context of  “The Digital World & the Future of Work” we will explore strategies to adapt the skills taught in education and training systems to the changing needs of today’s and tomorrow’s employees and employers,  providing input to our project on the Future of Work. With the help of humanoid robot Pepper, we will look closely at the future role of robots, artificial intelligence and increasing reliance on algorithms in transforming daily life, work, and social interaction.

Innovation is not just about technologies. It also includes new ways of doing things, and the “circular economy” can play a crucial role in delivering on COP21 by decoupling economic growth and job creation from the exploitation of natural resources.  Key actors such as Nick Stern will examine how to reduce pressure on precious finite resources from a global population that will reach 9 billion by 2030, a third of whom will be middle-class consumers.

Better Life Index & Economic Outlook

Wellbeing has been at the heart of the Forum since we first presented the OECD Better Life Index in 2011.  The latest edition of the Index that empowers people to compare countries’ performance in wellbeing according to what is most important to them, unveiled on 31 May,  will feature 38 countries including 2 newcomers, South Africa and Latvia, our newest member. Now in its 5th year, the Index has well over 8 million visitors from all corners of the globe, who are responding with their wellbeing priorities in ever greater numbers: in 2016 the top 3 priorities are Life Satisfaction, Health and Education. Income is ranked 9th out of our 11 dimensions of wellbeing. Analysis for those countries where citizens have shared their preferences with us most is available here.

Whilst the Index promotes our aspiration to measure our future development in a more holistic way, the OECD will be the focus of attention of the world’s media when we present our latest Economic Outlook, forecasting the prospects for the global economy on 1 June.

Join the debate

The rational, evidence-based discussion and compromise needed to define and implement the best ways to improve our societies and economies is often lacking in political discourse, whether in the context of the elections, the reforms or the referenda that will shape the future for generations to come. Against this backdrop, the Forum will challenge the world’s policymakers and policy-shapers to imagine and help realise a future where far more “Productive Economies” deliver in such a way as to effect far more “Inclusive Societies”.  We also extend this challenge to you. Join the debate!

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  1. Patricia Almeida Ashley - 30/05/2016 Reply

    Dear Anthony Gooch and team of thinkers, guests and organizers of the OECD Forum 2016

    I would like to express my congratulations to the convergence of topics which are complementary and demands an interdisciplinary analysis for comprehension of contemporany challenges in international, national and planetary perspectives.

    I would appreciate if the video stream could be watched also later, once some of them I shall be busy with other activities.

    My focus area of studies is policy coherence in a multi-level, multi-actor and multiterritoriality (zone and network territories) towards social responsibility and sustainable development. Thus several topics of the Forum touches them.

    Hopefully the illicit financial flow shall be targeted for tax system, once inequality is becoming structural by using the financial banking system nationally and internationally, once they are borderless nowadays. Wealth based on exploitation of labour, of knowledges (including traditional knowledges), of natural resources and of cultural values are supported by illicit financial flows and digital banking sytem. Thus responsible business conduct has to focus on this weightless economy organizations.

    OECD and G20, UN and multilateral trade and investment treaties would need to join hands by means of policy coherence (if it is possible to conceptually do it) towards sustainable modes of economies and cultures, calling technology to support sustainable development and responsible business conduct, including financial organizations

    Kind Regards
    Patricia Almeida Ashley

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