If you’ve been following the income inequality debate, you’ll know there’s been much discussion of the question in the headline above. Until just a few years ago, it’s probably fair to say that mainstream opinion leaned towards the “good for growth” side of the debate. Yes, inequality might leave a bad taste in the mouth, but it was worth it if it meant a strong economy.

©Andrew Biraj/Reuters

As G20 leaders look distraught at a global economy that is faced with weak growth, high unemployment and rising income inequality, they should repeat to themselves that this is not inevitable. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), while putting out another downward revision of growth forecasts, admitted that recovery is too slow and fragile, while recognising the problem of income inequality. The OECD, in its reports on New Approaches and Economic Challenges (NAEC) and its 2014 OECD Employment Outlook, acknowledges that rising inequality affects economic growth and social cohesion, sapping trust in markets and institutions.

Click to read cartoon. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer.

OECD Observer No 300, Q3 2014

Only a fine performance: Actress Judy Davis in the 1979 film adaptation of My Brilliant Career © AFP/Kobal/The Picture Desk

“I am only a woman!” declares Sybylla Melvyn with deliberate irony, in the Australian classic novel, My Brilliant Career. When Miles Franklin wrote the novel in 1901, aged just 19, she was embarking on her own career path, and though successful, like Sybylla, she encountered many social, economic and cultural hurdles along the way.

Eric Abetz, Australian Minister for Employment, and Chair of the 2014 G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting ©Australian Government

The world economy is still suffering from the strains of the longest crisis of modern times, and nowhere is this more evident than in the high unemployment numbers. Over 100 million people are out of work in the G20 countries, with joblessness at historically high levels in several of them. Long-term and youth unemployment, and low female participation, pose particular challenges.

Even in countries where recovery has begun to take hold, the reduction in joblessness has been frustratingly slow, and all too often achieved via low-skill, low-paying jobs. Resilient, inclusive and smart societies need more.

Policymakers have a key role to play in introducing the reforms and measures needed to improve labour markets and bring unemployment back down. In this OECD Observer Roundtable, we asked a cross-section of ministers:

“What actions are you taking to create more and better jobs in your economy?”

©OECD Observer Roundtable No 12.

Back in middle school, my classmates and I used to make up a game called “Anywhere but here” to while away the time during cover lessons and study hall. It involved closing your eyes, flicking through an atlas, and randomly pointing your finger at a map. Then you had to invent an elaborate story about your life in wherever you would end up.

©Stefano Guzzetti/Under licence from Shutterstock

Australia is known as the “lucky country” with its sunny climes, beautiful beaches and relaxed lifestyle. But did you know that it is also a “happy” country, at least according to well-being measures?

Fostering well-being at the local level is a way to build stronger and more sustainable communities. The OECD Regional Well-Being framework provides a tool to help governments at all levels design and refine the policies that will help achieve this goal.

Overall, well-being has improved over the past two centuries, but not always in the ways or for the reasons we might have thought. The Industrial Revolution sometimes meant workers were worse off and worse fed than before, for example.

We encourage the OECD and other global bodies to provide greater focus on reporting non-GDP based measures alongside GDP per capita when comparing the progress of nations so that this methodology can become more mainstream.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony signs the accession agreement to the OECD, with US Secretary of State William P. Rogers and OECD Secretary-General Emile Van Lennep © Sabine Weiss

Australia is not a founding member of the OECD, which was created in 1961. Rather, its decision to seek membership was only taken after ten years of intermittent debate.

©OECD/Marco Illuminati

Eight giant balloons from Japan floated in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on the weekend of 30 August, a reminder of one of the worst natural disasters of recent times–and of the determination of survivors to rebuild their region.

Time progresses inexorably. Six years have already elapsed since the onset of the global financial crisis, and employment in many countries is still far below its pre-2008 levels. Even for people who still have jobs, working conditions have deteriorated. Until recently, we were decrying a jobless recovery, but now the data suggest that growth itself may be fading in several countries. The conversation has become one of job losses among family and friends, as everyone feels exposed to cutbacks at work, falling wages, falling activity, insecurity, and the task of simply trying to make ends meet.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills ©Beawiharta Beawiharta/Reuters

What teachers–and the rest of us–can learn from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

Launching the ball: Pelé (right) with Brazil’s minister of sport, Aldo Rebelo ©OECD

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death…
I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” This phrase by Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club, has become immortal for football obsessives of the “beautiful game” (or o jogo bonito as Brazilians call soccer).

For international Blog Action Day, which this year focussed on income inequality, Brian Keeley from the OECD examines the evolution of inequality over time.

© Lionel Bonaventure/AFP PHOTO

The French are noted for their good living as well as a relatively long life span. It’s the so-called French paradox. The southwest in particular is said to have relatively more centenarians than anywhere else in the country. 

Yesterday was the UN International Day of Older Persons and the theme this year is “Leaving No-One Behind: Promoting a Society for All”. Monika Queisser, head of the Social Policy Division in the OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate, argues that the best policy for older people must focus on the young.

Each year about one-third of all the food produced globally ends up wasted even as hundreds of millions of people go hungry.

You say working longer in life is becoming part of a trend, and that it is becoming “more normative to keep working” past normal retirement (“Older candidates, please apply” in OECD Yearbook 2014, www.oecd.org/yearbook). But that does not mean a formal retirement age should be allowed to disappear. Just like a schoolgoing age or a voting age, a retirement age gives signals to guide policymaking as well as personal life decisions.

If you feel like happiness is the truth, you might be well poised to stop clapping along with Pharrell Williams, and start seeking out a new place to settle up north. While Switzerland topped the list of the happiest OECD countries in 2012, the high ranks were dominated by the Nordic circle of Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark.

Immigration became a heated subject of debate during the European Parliament elections in May 2014. Economists are now asking whether anti-immigrant sentiment can be attributed to fiscal, as well as social, factors.

The River Seine overflowing its banks is not an uncommon sight in Paris, as the winter catchment swells, causing water levels to rise and cover the lower banks, jetties and walkways. 

©David Rooney

Reconciling work and family commitments is a challenge in every country, but particularly for Japanese men and women. Much more so than in most other OECD countries, men and women have to choose between babies and bosses: men choose bosses, women less so, but on the whole there are very few babies and there is too little female employment. These shortcomings are increasingly coming to the fore and will have to be addressed.

Countries are not doing as well as they could in the battle against cancer, according to Cancer Care: Assuring Quality to Improve Survival. Cancer remains one of the leading health care challenges in all OECD countries, where more than 5 million new cases are diagnosed every year. 

While green growth has been paid a great deal of lip service by policymakers, business leaders and other stakeholders, few concrete strategies have been put in place. Perhaps surprisingly, even in agriculture, most OECD countries still do not have solid plans in place for pursuing green growth in this sector. 

©Ralph Freso/Reuters

One of the earliest citations of the phrase “print is dead” comes from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, but almost 30 years later, print is certainly not dead. Print publishing still drives on average 80% of revenues and close to 100% of the profits for general trade publishers. But among reference and science, technical and medical (STM) publishers, digital publishing was embraced quickly and openly at the expense of print. 

Click to enlarge

Optimism has proved to be another major victim of the economic crisis, according to How’s Life? Indeed, people’s long-term expectations about their subjective well-being fi ve years from now have deteriorated almost everywhere in the OECD area. And most of them don’t expect things to get much better. 

Dementia is a devastating condition for which there is no cure available. Care is costly, financially and emotionally. The cost for health systems is likely to rise in ageing societies. The condition damages the brain, and leads to a decline in a person’s functional and cognitive capabilities.

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