History in progress

Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development

The fact that the OECD’s 50th anniversary should come in the midst of a global economic crisis is a coincidence, but it could prove to be a fortuitous one. After all, historical perspectives can help better understand the present and better prepare for the future. There are other major anniversaries of historical significance also being celebrated at this time which we should look at more closely, for there are lessons to be drawn. Germany, for instance, has just commemorated the 20th anniversary of reunification. When the former West and East Germany came together shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it marked the end of opposing the ideologies of “central planning versus markets”. More than that, reunification combined with dramatic shifts throughout the former eastern bloc and beyond, setting free hundreds of millions of people around the world.

But how many people realise that this year’s anniversary also coincides with the final payment of Germany’s reparations to the victors of World War I?

Now we are about to celebrate 50 years of co-operation at the OECD, itself born out of the most sweeping and forward-looking policy initiative for the political and economic development of Europe following World War II. It was the spirit of this initiative which the organisation’s founders such as President John F Kennedy believed the OECD should carry forward for the benefit of the wider global economy.

Far from creating “enemies forever” as some feared, we now have unprecedented political and economic co-operation and integration. Still our work continues.

As we face the present crisis, and as the G20 enters its third year as the new global governance arrangement, the most important lesson to draw from these historical perspectives is not just the unlimited capacity of people to work together, and build a new and better future, but also that it takes great patience and perseverance to get there.

Rolf Alter, OECD


©OECD Observer No 281, October 2010




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