“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. 

Starting a factory? While “quick and dirty” may be the easiest business model to follow, the OECD is encouraging start-ups to start smart, with sustainability in mind. The OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit is a seven-step checklist to help businesses integrate good environmental practice, and stay on the side of investors, regulators, customers and local communities.

Have you ever had the feeling that economists and governments speak about wealth and growth in a way that doesn’t always chime with your own everyday experience?

When the OECD joined the G20 crackdown on tax havens during the economic crisis in 2009, its longstanding work helped to curb this harmful tax practice and implement a global standard of bank transparency. Now the organisation is focusing on another time-honoured malpractice: that of slipping taxable income through fiscal loopholes. Some call this creative accounting, the OECD calls it aggressive tax planning, and because it is hurting government revenue, it is hurting entire economies as well.

In the last edition of the OECD Observer we showed how investing in a gas-based kitchen can save lives. The simple water closet can also be a means to good health and dignity, and a source of economic wellbeing, says a new OECD report, Benefits of Investing in Water and Sanitation.

In 1950, less than 1% of the global population was over 80. By 2050, the share of those aged 80 and over is expected to reach nearly 10% across OECD countries. The trouble is, while people are living longer, they are not always able to look after themselves. Relying on family help can be difficult, not just financially, but also because, as people live longer, their children may also be ageing and facing challenges of their own. That is why public authorities are starting to focus on the issue of long-term care and the provision of services for elderly people with reduced functional capacities.

As efforts to restart the stalled Doha Development Round negotiations intensify, the policy focus on world trade, and, specifically, its relation to development aid and growth in poorer countries, has become more acute. Trade is a powerful engine for economic growth, as the OECD’s founders argued 50 years ago, and, as such, can contribute to reducing poverty. However, efforts to improve trade in developing countries are often hampered by domestic constraints, particularly a lack of adequate economic infrastructures, as well as institutional and organisational obstacles.

How much more would you be willing to pay for renewable energy? Are environmental concerns a factor in how much you use your car? And are you really thinking about the environment when you buy organic food? All these questions, and more, are at the heart of the 2008 survey which forms the basis of Greening Household Behaviour. A part of the OECD’s Green Growth Strategy, this survey covered 10,000 households across ten OECD countries to determine how our day-to-day relationship with the environment may affect reforms, and is due for another round in 2011.

Read the OECD Yearbook 2011, inaugural edition for the 50th anniversary of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. See the articles below or click here for the Issuu pdf version, which features key trends since the 1960s for OECD and partner countries; from page 103.

As biofuel production grew fourfold from 2000 to 2008, criticism of the industry seemed to increase nearly as dramatically. Production of these transport fuels, which are based on food crops such as grains, sugar cane and vegetable oils, competes with food crops and drives up food prices, experts argue. Also, from land-clearance needed for cultivation, production and use, these biofuels may actually increase, rather than reduce, greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the mitigated outcome of the recent Copenhagen climate change summit, efforts to develop renewable energy still make progress. Practical solutions to improve the development and implementation of renewable energies and boost their efficiency are constantly being sought. Attention is starting to focus on cities.

Climate change is very much on the development agenda, but according to this guide, Integrating Climate Change Adaptation into Development Co-operation: Policy Guidance, while developing countries account for over half of total carbon emissions, they are also the most vulnerable to climate change.

"This makes you my competitor", said oil pioneer Daniel Plainview on learning that his son wanted to quit the wells in California to drill his own in Mexico, in the 2007 movie, There will be Blood. And to be sure, Mexico did become a competitor, producing oil in the early 1900s and becoming the second largest producer in the Americas after the US by the 1990s.

Humanity has few stranger monuments than the moai of Easter Island. Weighing up to 270 tonnes, these huge figures, like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, are all that’s left of what must once have been a creative and complex society–but a society that also used its resources unsustainably, effectively destroying the ecosystem base of its island home.

Fisheries may be an ancient economic activity, but nowadays they are at the forefront of globalisation. First, there is the trade itself: a blue hake caught off the coast of New Zealand by a Japanese vessel may be processed in China before being flown to a market in London or Paris.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in early December 2007 may have raised new hopes of progress, but as everyone knows, dealing with climate change will require more than just political goodwill. Providing for abundant, affordable, clean energy will require considerable investment in new power generation–more than US$11 trillion to 2030, based on an estimate in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2006.

Transport is the main cause of carbon dioxide emissions, ahead of power generation or industry. While aviation accounts for 14% of transport-based CO2 emissions in the EU, roads have a larger effect. In OECD countries, road transport accounts for over 80% of all transport-related energy consumption, for most of the accidents and the majority of air pollutant emissions, noise and habitat degradation.

Which came first, working mothers or day care centres? More mothers in the workforce generally spur the development of childcare facilities. In this study of four of the wealthier OECD countries–Canada, Finland, Sweden and the UK–where three out of four women between the ages of 25 and 54 hold down jobs, the Swedish experience suggests that without publicly-assisted childcare, the upper limit for female employment would be around 60%.

In Mexico, 80% of the population lives in relatively dry and hot areas and subterranean resources are being slowly exhausted. Access to water is increasingly becoming an issue in some of the most active and industrialised parts of the country. Yet, says the OECD’s 2004 review of regulatory reform in Mexico, rapid demographic growth and industrial development have increased the overall demand for water.

Energy planning is not easy, and when governments shop around for energy sources, they must balance costs and benefits of available options.

Sweden’s good reputation for a clean environment may be deserved, but there are murky spots. True, it gained high marks in the recent OECD Environmental Performance Review of Sweden. It was one of the first OECD countries to cut its use of environmentally harmful chemicals, and is one of the few OECD countries on track to meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Predicting the future is all very well, but how much will it cost to keep the world’s engines running? This publication is the first-ever attempt to comprehensively examine future investment needs, worldwide, in all parts of the energy-supply chain.

The archipelago that makes up Japan is two-thirds mountains, with few indigenous energy resources. As the fourth largest energy consumer in the world, with relatively high energy prices, the most important energy challenge for Japan is security of supply.

The efficiency of power grids may be in the spotlight now, but the availability of energy resources is also a burning and divisive question. Renewables Information 2003, from the International Energy Agency, shows that in the past decade, renewable energy sources, such as solar power, hydro, wind and combustible biomass resources have been gaining ground.

While bemoaning the global impact of rich countries’ subsidies on poorer economies, environmentalists are taking a closer look at how the elimination of some subsidies may be detrimental to the environment.

Did you think twice before you switched on the air conditioning this summer? For many living in hot, humid cities and regions, air conditioning is seen as the greatest invention of all time. But being slightly cooler has a high price as far as energy consumption is concerned.

By 2020 transport will account for more than half the world’s oil demand, and will generate nearly a quarter of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions. According to projections in this book from the International Energy Agency, a sister organisation of the OECD, the rate of increase in transportation oil use is expected to be three times higher in developing countries than in the OECD, though the latter will still account for the lion’s share of emissions.

When electricity shortages blacked out much of California last year, those countries and industries investing in wind and solar-powered energy must have felt a glow of excitement. After the lights came back on, energy experts were boldly predicting that the solar power industry would double its profits by 2005.

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q2 2018 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.9% Sept 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.2% Sept 2018
Last update: 13 Nov 2018

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  • 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!
  • Watch the webcast of the final press conference of the OECD annual ministerial meeting 2018.
  • 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.
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  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • 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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