©JFK Library

50 years ago, on 22 November 1963, US President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The shockwave of that tragedy rocked the world and still reverberates today. The sadness at President Kennedy’s untimely death was equally heartfelt in the corridors of the OECD, an international organisation whose creation in September 1961 he personally and strongly supported.

In his first state of the union address on 30 January 1961, John F. Kennedy saw the newly formed OECD as an organisation that would “provide for the hopes for growth of the less developed lands.” The president expanded on this vision in this statement on the ratification of the OECD, issued on 23 March 1961. By Rory Clarke, OECD Observer

Rarely in our lifetime has international co-operation been as important for the world as it is today. Global growth, though recovering slowly, is stumbling along at just over 3%. The scars of the crisis run long and deep, with rising inequality, fragile job markets and waning trust fuelling protectionism and populist backlashes in some OECD countries. Social and environmental problems, as well as several conflicts, add to the list of challenges we face. Can they be solved if there is division among us?

The entire collection of OECD‘s country economic surveys has now been made accessible online at the OECD i-Library. Published regularly since the creation of the OECD in 1961, and to mark the Organisation’s 50th anniversary, this online archive offers a unique historical perspective of the economic changes OECD countries have undergone since 1961. It is an invaluable resource for anyone tracing their efforts to rebuild their economies after World War II, addressing the oil crisis in the 1970s, the dot.com revolution and bubble, and the economic, educational and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

It would be easy to think that the organisation created in 1961 was the inevitable next stage in the evolution of the OEEC, the European body originally set up to administer the Marshall Plan in 1947. But the OECD did not simply "replace" the OEEC. Nor was its creation inevitable or easy.

©Lauri Heikkinen/Valtioneuvoston kanslia

The year 1968 was very important in many respects. There were youth revolts throughout Europe contesting the old order. In Vietnam, the war had intensified. The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia ended with a Soviet intervention.

©RGA/REA

[…] The French Senate and the French nation, in all their political bodies, are proud to host the OECD in Paris. The presence of a multilateral organisation as eminent as yours is an asset for Paris and for France, as well as a showcase for the French language, which is an official working language of your organisation. […]

Finland prepares to join: OECD Secretary-General Thorkil Kristensen (right) welcomes Tankmar Horn, Undersecretary of State, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ©OECD Observer archive 1969

Finland marks its 50th anniversary as an OECD member country on 28 January 2019. Though not a founding member when the OECD commenced in September 1961, Finland’s interest in joining was never in doubt. However, it adopted a cautious approach.

©Hervé Cortinat/OECD

Hecate is one of Greek mythology’s many intriguing goddesses. A three-headed character, she is associated with sorcery, but also with boundaries and walls, as well as crossroads, entranceways, gates and doorways, and lights. She is depicted carrying torches and keys, so that while some historians see Hecate as a protector who bestows prosperity, others compare her to the Roman Janus, a symbol of openings and new beginnings, able to light the way ahead.

Korea’s accession: Korean Foreign Affairs Minister, Gong Ro-Myung shakes hands with OECD Secretary-General Donald Johnston after signing the invitation to join the organisation, 25 October 1996 ©OECD

In 2016 Korea celebrates 20 years of membership in the OECD. In the early 1980s, following a period of remarkably successful economic growth, it commenced a programme of financial liberalisation and then, from 1993, more general economic and regulatory reform. There were three major reasons for the change in approach. The first was the increasing international influence of the market and the second was growing international and domestic pressure for Korea to remove trade restrictions, increasingly important as the Uruguay Round negotiations led to the establishment of the WTO. A third reason was pressure from increasingly powerful industrial groups or chaebols for liberalisation, especially as regards lifting the ceiling on their ownership of bank shares, greater freedom in foreign borrowing and raising the aggregate credit ceiling. 

©OECD/Michael Dean

Did you know that each of the OECD’s 35 member countries is represented by a mission with full diplomatic status? The size of these OECD delegations varies by country size, but each one has a permanent representative at ambassadorial level, including this author. Together we make up the OECD Council that oversees the work programme set by member countries for the organisation. But our role goes beyond mere representation.  

©OECD/Nguyen Tien

During my tenure as secretary-general of the OECD, few events gave me as much pleasure as welcoming Korea as a member in the autumn of 1996. 

Haguiwara Toru and Thorkil Kristensen, Memorandum of Understanding to join the OECD, signature of the Convention, in the OECD Observer No 6, October 1963, page 3 ©OECD

OECD membership crowned Japan’s efforts to reintegrate into the international community after the Second World War, while helping to turn the organisation into a global, rather than European, player. But the country’s accession had to be managed with great care, reflecting tensions of the time. 

Kumiharu Shigehara

Japan and the OECD have worked hard to get to know each other over the last 50 years.

©David Rooney

The political landscape of global governance is changing profoundly. This is posing great challenges to policy makers and organisations such as the OECD.

The OECD’s capacity for change, inspired more by professional pathfinding than by politics, has transformed it into a multi-disciplinary policy innovator that can continue to build signposts for the future.

The OECD has transformed itself into a policy pathleader on a whole range of public policies–national, regional and local–with the avowed aim of promoting human progress. But is the new OECD a child or a prisoner of its past?

Economic data

GDP growth: -9.8% Q2/Q1 2020 2020
Consumer price inflation: 1.3% Sep 2020 annual
Trade (G20): -17.7% exp, -16.7% imp, Q2/Q1 2020
Unemployment: 7.3% Sep 2020
Last update: 10 Nov 2020

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