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.

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.

£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.

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.

“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.

Extreme weather is now par for the course worldwide thanks to climate change. While everyone may enjoy a day off work due to transportation troubles, extreme temperature and rising sea levels can damage infrastructure. Heat exposes it to a higher risk of fire, storms and precipitation can cause physical asset damage, and rising sea levels endanger low-lying systems. We must change our existing systems and Adapting Transport to Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Implications for Infrastructure Owners and Network Managers provides a wealth of information about why and how we can best do this.

The popularity of the films Fast Food Nation, What the Health and Rotten has consumers everywhere concerned about the hygiene of their food, but what about the energy cost of producing it? Ready-to-eat food, whether fast food or a meal in a restaurant, may be convenient, but requires more energy to produce than less processed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, or conventional butcher meat. Your pre-washed packaged salads may make your life easier but at a cost for the environment.

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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.

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Illegal wildlife trade is one of the most profitable forms of illicit trade worldwide, a multibillion-dollar international industry that has grown in sophistication, and volume. Estimates value the trade at somewhere between US$7–23 billion annually, making it a lucrative part of a wider environmental crime industry worth over US$175 billion.

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“Workin' 9 to 5; What a way to make a living”, Dolly Parton sang in her classic hit. The year was 1980, and Parton’s character in the eponymous film, 9 to 5, already pioneered numerous policies of the new world of work to come, such as flexible work hours and a job-sharing programme. Some of these changes have since become widespread in certain countries and industries. And they affect social protection policies, too, as the OECD report The Future of Social Protection: What Works for Non-standard Workers? shows.

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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“Trade which, without force or constraint, is naturally and regularly carried on between any two places is always advantageous,” wrote Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.

“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.

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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.

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Korea has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. Of developed economies, it also spends among the least money on employment insurance programs. On the outset, this makes a lot of sense. If you don’t have unemployment, why shell out on extensive unemployment benefit programmes?

Argentina’s economy has survived recurring states of crises, alternating between periods of recession and high economic growth. The economy, and its people, need to be better equipped to be more resilient to shocks. 

©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. 

If you have had the impression that there is more violence in the world nowadays, you may not be wrong. According to States of Fragility 2016: Understanding Violence, the world has been becoming more violent for a decade; indeed, according to the Uppsala University Conflict Data Program, 2014 and 2015 marked the second and third worst years in terms of fatalities since the Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago. As 22% of the global population currently live in fragile contexts and their proportion is anticipated to rise to 32% by 2050, the links between fragility and violence are becoming increasingly clear. 

Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the worst health status in the world, according to the authors of Making Medicines in Africa. As policymakers turn their focus to healthcare, in part spurred on by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the authors argue that industrial development in pharmaceuticals and the capabilities it generates can play a crucial role in addressing the healthcare needs of the continent. Through a collection of case studies on industrial policies, Making Medicines in Africa shows the successes and pitfalls along the way. 

Germans are considered to have some of the most egalitarian attitudes in the world when it comes to sharing responsibilities between mothers and fathers, second only to Sweden, according to a survey of the International Social Survey Programme. But how does this attitude translate into practice? 

The OECD’s Toby Green (right) receives the Academic and Professional Publisher Award from Tim Gillett of Research Information at the London Book Fair, 14 March 2017 ©Rights reserved

OECD Publishing, which is the publishing brand and agency of the OECD, has won the 2017 Academic and Professional Publisher Award at the London Book Fair, held at the Olympia in London on 14 March. The award, which is organised in partnership with the Publishers Association, was presented under the International Excellence Awards, with the support of Research Information, a print and online magazine from Europa Science Ltd.

After years of strong performance, Latin America’s economies are facing a dimmer outlook. The region’s GDP growth will be negative for the second consecutive year in 2016, shrinking by between 0.9% and 1% in 2016, a contraction which has not been seen since the early 1980s. This slowdown has stalled the reduction of inequalities and the expansion of the middle class, with 25 to 30 million vulnerable Latin Americans at risk of falling back into poverty in the near future. 

Too much, too little, too polluted: these are three water risks facing many urban areas. By 2050, worldwide water demand will increase by 55%. This will mean fierce competition across different water users–farmers, industries, households, etc. Whether containing flooding in Paris, drought in San Francisco or groundwater contamination in Mexico City, cities everywhere are asking how to anticipate, avoid and overcome future water crises. 

Do you know what an arithmetic mean is? Or a polygon? On average, fewer than 30% of students across OECD countries understand the concept of an arithmetic mean, while less than 50% are comfortable with elementary geometrical shapes known as polygons. Yet with numeracy skills needed more than ever in the work place, today’s students should be able to compute, engage in logical reasoning and use mathematics to tackle novel problems. However, only a minority of 15-year-old students in most countries grasp and can work with core mathematical concepts. To what extent can teachers and schools break this pattern? 

France has significantly improved its environmental performance over the past ten years, as evidenced by the signing of the Paris Agreement and the entry into force of the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, both of which promote the protection of biodiversity, responsible management of resources and the fight against waste, and sketch out a new model of participative governance. But there remain gaps in the country’s environmental policy, according to the latest Environmental Performance Review of France, which advises the French government to waste no time in implementing its energy transition. 

Oceans hold the promise of immense resource wealth and great potential for boosting economic growth, employment and innovation. In the same time, they are recognised as indispensable for addressing many of the global challenges facing the planet, from food security and climate change to the provision of energy, natural resources and health care. But they are already over-exploited, polluted and confronted with climate change.

While the digital world is a driver of innovation and productivity, it raises the issue of digital security, since online vulnerability can lead to financial, privacy and reputational damages. 

More than a quarter of 15-year-old school students in OECD countries fail to achieve the most basic level of profi ciency in mathematics, reading and science. In other countries, the share is often much larger. Such poor performance at school has severe consequences for individuals: low-performing students tend to have less motivation and self-confidence, will skip classes and perhaps miss days at school. In the long run, this affects their lives and compromises a country’s economic and social prospects. 

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an oft-repeated phrase that is highly relevant to agricultural systems today. Growing global demand for food, fuel and fibre will have to be met by improving agricultural productivity growth, which will be a tall order, given increasing pressures on natural resources, resulting from climate change and competition for land, for instance. Any growth in agriculture will therefore have to be achieved sustainably through more efficient resource use.

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

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  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

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