With 90% of external trade volumes transported by ship, port-cities stand as symbols of globalisation. Indeed, this has been so since ancient times: French economic historian Fernand Braudel has stressed the historical link between ports, urban development and the birth of the capitalist market economy. 

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.

How much of a country can you count? The newly updated Understanding National Accounts from the OECD answers this question and gives a summary of how to calculate the accounts as well as the principles and data sources behind them.

The world’s first ATM cash machine opened in Vancouver in October 2013, offering Bitcoin conversion to and from Canadian dollars. As the global use of Bitcoin continues to increase, governments around the world have both greeted and shunned the anonymous digital crypto-currency. 

After decades of economic isolation, Myanmar has boldly re-entered the global market with a wide range of policy reforms intended to court foreign trade and investment. Reforms range from improvements in infrastructure, to food security and agricultural growth, to monetary and financial sector transformations. Rich in natural resources and a young labour force, the country of over 60 million people once called the “rice bowl’’ of Asia stands to gain much from opening its economy to the world.

Industrial policy is now back–unless, as economist Joseph Stiglitz says, it never really left. The third edition of Perspectives on Global Development from the OECD Development Centre demystifies industrial policies. Cambridge Professor Ha Joon Chang calls it a “landmark publication because it looks for ways to make industrial policy work better, rather than having an ideological debate on whether it exists and whether it can ever succeed.”

The recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and arduous, and has at times threatened to derail altogether.

©Brendan McDermid/Reuters

When the worst crisis in over 50 years struck OECD countries in 2008, people rightly asked why they had not been warned. After all, the information world is awash with economists, global traders and other experts watching the markets, and international organisations such as the OECD and the IMF are tasked with what is known as economic surveillance. 

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. 

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. 

The shortfalls of GDP that were already apparent before the crisis but made starker during it have led to a panoply of new initiatives to find metrics that can measure wellbeing rather than just economic growth. But while GDP has stood accused of overlooking the environment and human well-being, it has one advantage which policymakers and analysts appreciate: the methods are objective and clear. Whether measuring output or expenditure in an economy, GDP produces a single number that is easy to adjust and compare.

©REUTERS/Amr Dalsh

The Arab Spring and the rise of new social and democratic movements throughout large parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) may not have changed the world quite as much as millions had hoped, but at least they gave a new impetus to the use of information and communications technology and the potential of “e-government” to foster participation and engagement, increase transparency and restore public trust. 

Obama getting through

Major events, like the Great East Japan earthquake or indeed the euro crisis, can have important ripple effects that spread well beyond the areas immediately concerned. More recently, the budget crisis that resulted in the shutdown of large parts of the US government and public services has raised the spectre of a default, the first in the country’s history.

In 1994, a simple disagreement in a marketplace in Ghana over the price of a guinea fowl turned ugly. The quarrel led to the violent death of one person, which provoked subsequent killings and then escalated into a cycle of revenge attacks. The dispute quickly grew to become what is today known as the Guinea Fowl War. By the time the Ghanaian military restored order, more than 400 villages had been burned and over 15 000 people are thought to have been killed.

Climate change is, to a large extent, water change. Water is the predominant channel through which the impact of climate change will be felt. More torrential rains, floods and droughts can be expected in many parts of the world. Not only that–climate change is reshaping the future for freshwater on the planet. 

Developing countries are a broad group. At the top of the pile are emerging powerhouses such as Brazil and China. At the bottom are a poor group called fragile states, such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

Fragile states lack capacity to carry out basic governance functions and are unable to develop constructive relation with society. They are home to half of all children not in primary school and half of all children who die before reaching their fifth birthday. In the next decade, these countries will be the main battlegrounds in the war against global poverty, breeding instability with regional and sometimes global consequences.

©Mischa Keijser/Cultura Creative/AFP

Since 1997 the Netherlands has had a tax allowance scheme aimed at promoting investments in energy-saving technologies and sustainable energy production. This so-called Energy Investment Tax Allowance, or EIA to the Dutch, reduces up-front investment costs for firms investing in the newest energy-saving and sustainable energy technologies. The basic design of the EIA has remained the same over the past 15 years: firms investing in technologies listed in an annually updated “energy list” may deduct some of the investment costs from their taxable profits.

One of the biggest targets for reform in the pursuit of leaner government budgets is public sector pay and performance. Because of the crisis, some countries have frozen or even reduced salaries, while others have preferred to reduce benefits, even pensions. Others have decided to do nothing for the moment.

©Reuters/Andrea Comas

Few countries have suffered the scourge of high youth unemployment as much as Spain has. There, the unemployment rate for under 25-year-olds exceeded 50% in 2012, nearly three times the OECD average. However, the crisis has not been the only cause of this; in fact, high rates of youth unemployment are not a recent phenomenon in Spain.

In a globalised world, social unrest occurring far away can have transnational ramifications, with effects nearer to home. This has been evident in recent years with movements such as Occupy and Indignados, and the Arab Spring. Unrest could also be the consequence of a terrorist attack, but even the threat of one can lead to widespread panic. The upshot can be disorder and economic turmoil.

The Internet is much more than a multi-billion dollar industry. The world’s economy now depends on this global “cloud”, which was once little more than a means of connecting different computers over a phone network. Today, the digital age has vast new potential to serve as a force of progress in the global economy, but better, smarter public policies will be needed for that potential to become reality.

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population more than 5.5 billion people will live in urban areas. This population boom, combined with threats of global warming, high energy prices and tight government budgets make a convincing argument for better city planning. Governments faced with growing populations and dwindling natural resources have two choices: they can let urban sprawl continue to eat up useful land or they can plan “compact cities” that will be better for the economy and the environment. 

©Mehmet Kacmaz/NAR Photos-REA

The OECD is preparing its forthcoming Economic Survey of Turkey. What issues will be examined? We asked the OECD Economics Department to outline them. Turkey has achieved strong growth in terms of GDP and employment and its public finances are in comparatively good shape. As you prepare your forthcoming Economic Survey of Turkey, what factors would you say contributed to these successes? 

“Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it,” said Benjamin Franklin. Yet, from Machiavelli through Richelieu to Kissinger, people in power have always relied on good advice from people they trust. But where should the line be drawn (rather than blurred) between influence and intrigue, cost and benefit? 

Inventors, entrepreneurs and start-ups offer a glimmer of hope in a time of low growth and austerity, with governments and economists alike shifting their attention towards innovation as a way out of a protracted crisis. Government-supported policies and programmes to support business innovation have been around for decades, but how successful are they and what lessons can be drawn for these more austere times? 

Thomas Edison’s assertion that “genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” is particularly pertinent to the solar energy sector. This remarkable technology could hold answers to so many of the world’s energy challenges, but only at the cost of hard effort and investment. Solar Energy Perspectives, the first in-depth study dedicated to solar technology from the International Energy Agency (IEA), a sister organisation of the OECD, gives a comprehensive analysis of solar energy’s potential as well as the policies required to increase its capacity in the coming decades. 

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q4 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% Dec 2017 annual
Trade: +4.3% exp, +4.3% imp, Q3 2017
Unemployment: 5.5% Dec 2017
Last update: 23 Feb 2018

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  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
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  • 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 .
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