©UrbanImages/Alamy

Fraud and corruption are undermining the impact of the European Structural and Investment Funds, with recent high-profile cases resulting in mass protests and political upheaval. So what can EU governments do to tackle the problem?

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“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them,” said James Baldwin. Indeed, young children pick up most of their social and educational cues from their adult caretakers, as a recent–and unprecedented–OECD meta-analysis of 44 early childcare studies found. Collectively, these studies confirm that the quality of interactions between care staff and children is the key driver of children’s development in early childcare programmes.

£3.5 billion. That’s the amount of money–nearly US$4.5 billion–the UK economy is estimated to lose every year due to unresolved legal issues and ongoing disputes. Providing equal and efficient access to legal services – like mediation or legal representation–is considered to be a core duty of democratic justice systems. As Equal Access to Justice for Inclusive Growth shows, this equal provision of justice services is not only a good in itself, but is also essential for promoting inclusive economic growth.

“An instrument of the devil”. That is how the invention of the telephone was greeted in Sweden in the mid-19th century, according to Ericsson, a  telecommunications firm. From phones to televisions and cars, such horror is quite a common public reaction to the advent of new technologies, even if it often doesn’t take too long before the same people wonder how they ever did without them.

Artificial intelligence is still in its early days and policymakers are still finding their feet. To what extent can they, and should they, encourage this powerful new technology, and how can they address any risks? The OECD Principles on AI can help. They promote artificial intelligence (AI) that is innovative and trustworthy and that respects human rights and democratic values.

We are pleased to have provided leadership and guidance on this report–the first-ever global study of its kind on Indigenous economies and regional development. This work has directly involved Indigenous communities and leaders throughout. It is also timely. As Indigenous peoples worldwide achieve growing legal recognition of their rights as well as title to land and sea, it is imperative that we overcome the implementation gap and translate these rights into better outcomes. Reconciliation involves addressing Indigenous land title along with the meaningful engagement of the original people in planning the protection and sustainable use of lands, water, natural resources and wildlife. It also demands the inclusion of Indigenous peoples and perspectives in governance and policy design at all levels.

As the world becomes more digital, typical social values are applied to new contexts. This can lead to complications. For example, how can one ensure fairness within the framework of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems? The advantages of AI are clear: AI increases productivity and innovation, and makes data and predictions more accurate and less expensive. AI technologies are already in use in fields from medicine to finance. However, as AI spreads, it runs the risk of engraining gender and racial biases into its actions and results.

Every generation since the baby boom has seen its middle class shrink and the economic influence of that class weaken. Should we care? Yes, according to Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class, which shows why a strong, prosperous middle class is crucial for any successful economy and cohesive society. The middle class sustains consumption, drives investment in education, health and housing, and pays taxes that support social protection systems. Societies with a strong middle class have lower crime rates, enjoy higher levels of trust and life satisfaction, as well as greater political stability and good governance.

Seventy years ago, scientist Alan Turing philosophically asked whether machines could think. Coined in 1956, the terms artificial intelligence and AI are now everywhere. Since 2011, breakthroughs in “machine learning”–an AI subset that uses a statistical approach–has dramatically improved the ability of machines to make predictions. A machine learning technique called “neural networks”, as well as large datasets and computing power, are fueling AI’s rapid expansion.

Health care facility in Surabaya city, East Java, Indonesia. © spotters/Shutterstock

Anyone looking for proof of the valuable role social protection plays in our economies should look no further than Indonesia. After all, here’s a country of over 260 million people living on more than 6,000 islands where administrative and logistical challenges are simply routine. Even Indonesia’s presidential election, held on 17 April, was hailed as an achievement in itself.

First Artek shop in Helsinki, 1936; photo provided especially to OECD Observer by Artek. ©Artek Collection, Alvar Aalto Museum

Finland has a reputation among designers, architects and artists for being a land, a nation, a culture that produces high-quality design and architecture. It tops happiness polls and educational surveys, can produce determined sports champions, and world-class high-tech products and games software, but it also has a relatively high incidence of mental illness and has been battling down its suicide rate. A land of extremes with a wide breadth of emotions, talents and expectations?

“All human beings are born equal. But on the following day, they no longer are,” said French author Jean Renard in 1907. This is because sticky floors and ceilings–or rags to rags and riches to riches–define the bottom and top income distributions. Today, it takes four to five generations, on average, for children from the poorest 10% of the population to reach median income levels. Meanwhile, about 50% of children of wealthy parents will themselves remain rich in countries like Germany and the US.

What do people think their future holds? To better understand people’s worries, the OECD conducted a survey, called Risks That Matter, asking 20,000 people in 19 countries what they thought were the biggest risks facing them and their family.

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At some point in just about everyone’s life, we are affected by poor mental health.­ In the EU an estimated 1 in every 6 people experience a mental health problem. In Finland, which has the highest estimated incidence of mental disorders in the EU, close to 1 in 5 are affected. Mental illness has a high economic cost–the cost of treatment, social security programmes, lower employment and lost productivity add up to a total average of 4% of GDP in EU countries. In Finland it is higher still: an estimated 5.3% of GDP in 2016.

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It was seven years ago when Arvo (not his real name) first walked into this building. Back then, it was a hostel for homeless men run by the Salvation Army and had a certain reputation. Arvo can still remember opening the door to his dormitory. There were three men sitting on their beds, their faces sullen and melancholy. This would be his new home for a while.

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To understand the 2011 Egyptian Arab Spring, we need to view it as the culmination of a series of uprisings within the country’s long history. From this vantage point we can start to see the gradual acquisition of free will and social awareness.

Relaxed learning environment at Helsinki University Library. ©Shutterstock

Finland has consistently been one of the most successful countries in global education rankings. For some, its name has become synonymous with educational excellence. While Finland is not alone in achieving world-class educational standards, what makes the country unique is that all of its schools are, effectively, elite schools: performance differences between Finnish schools account for just 5% of the total variation in student performance.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” William Shakespeare’s advice in All’s Well that Ends Well still applies today. After the 2008 financial crisis, it appears that people took his advice, particularly about trust. Citizens lost trust in their government and economic institutions. As a result, measuring trust, which is hard to earn and easy to lose, is now a priority for many institutions and OECD countries. How can you safely and accurately quantify a level of trust–the confidence between two people or a person and an institution? The OECD Guidelines on Measuring Trust sets out to do just that.

Who are the Gilets Jaunes and what do they want? We talk to Sophie Pedder, who is Paris bureau chief of the Economist and author of Revolution Française: Emmanuel Macron and the quest to reinvent a nation.

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To mark Finland’s 50th anniversary as a member of the OECD, we have invited a range of representatives to answer the following question: What Finnish achievement would you most celebrate from the last 50 years, and what would you see as the main policy challenge for the next 50?

In the early 1600s in North America, colonists ruined by a bad crop would often move on to new territory. In order to save on costs, they would burn down their homes to collect the nails, which would be used to build their next house. The image is one of restlessness and ingenuity, and mobility, contributing to a myth that many people there still cherish.

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For proof that the tech industry is not particularly welcoming to women, one need look no further than Google, where women account for just 31% of headcount, falling to a mere 20% in pure tech roles. They are also paid less than their male counterparts, according to a class action lawsuit filed in 2017 by three former employees on behalf of “all women employed by Google in California” for discrimination and unequal pay for equal work. Which did nothing to stop another former employee, who had been laid off after circulating a sexist memo, lodging his own complaint against the Internet giant for “ostracising” conservative white men.

Nicolas Anelka, French footballer from Trappes ©Glyn Kirk/AFP

Some 25 kilometres from Paris lies Trappes, a town from which more people have left to fight in Syria than anywhere else in Europe. How did a town which has produced numerous French celebrities such as footballer Nicolas Anelka, comedian Jamel Debbouze, actor Omar Sy, and TV and radio presenter Sophia Aram, end up with this sad claim to fame?

As part of an OECD Obsever Roundtable we invited a range of representatives, speakers of the OECD Conference on Culture and Local Development (Venice, Italy, 6-7 December 2018), to answer the following question: What government policies would you encourage most to ensure that cultural initiatives can promote economic development, social inclusion and well-being in our cities and regions?

Most people probably believe they make decisions with integrity. Yet behavioural evidence reveals otherwise. Often, we’re not even aware when we are deviating from ethical standards, simply because justifications and biased judgments affect our perception of what constitutes a breach of integrity. 

Migration is nothing new. People have moved across communities, states and continents for millennia. In 2017, about 258 million people worldwide were living outside their country of birth, nearly half in OECD countries. The International Migration Outlook 2018 looks at who these migrants are and maps what is driving their flow into OECD countries, where an estimated 5 million new migrants settled permanently in 2017, representing a 5% drop from 2016 levels.  

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In her Oscar-winning performance as the main character of the 2014 film Still Alice, actress Julianne Moore played a linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset familial Alzheimer's disease, a rare form of dementia. It was a reminder of the struggle that is affecting the everyday life of a growing number of people worldwide.

Heavy seas on the way to Tangier: the topmen giving it their all ©Frégate L'Hermione

The Francosphere is the fastest growing language zone in the world, with over one billion people expected to be living in French-speaking countries by 2065, second only to countries that speak English. What are the challenges for this francophonie – and for the world?

©Christopher David Rothecker

Plutarch once said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” The educational prospects of indigenous students in Canada, New Zealand and Queensland, Australia, are getting brighter, a new study of the OECD finds. 

What do they really think about immigration? ©Shutterstock

We are far more open towards immigration than some people might have us believe, a new independent survey shows.

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.2% Q4 2019
Consumer price inflation: 1.7% March 2020
Trade (G20): -0.1% exp, -1.3% imp, Q4 2019
Unemployment: 5.6% March 2020
Sharp drop in OECD leading indicators point to darker outlook: Last update: 14 May 2020

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