Food prices have increased over the year to January 2011 in many of the world’s economies. Moreover, those increases, which accelerated from mid-2010, reversed the downward trend in food prices of 2009 and the first half of 2010, OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-2020 says. Threequarters of the OECD countries recorded retail food price increases of 5% or less, while price increases exceeded that in half a dozen or so countries. Two OECD countries, Korea and Estonia, experienced increases of over 10%. Brazil, China, Indonesia and Russia all had double-digit rates of food infl ation during the year to January 2011, well up on the previous year. In South Africa, food prices increased by a moderate 3.3%, though this represented a doubling from the rate of the previous year. Food price inflation also accelerated in the second half of 2010 in several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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.

While the quality of online education is a subject of intense debate among educators, parents and students alike, what is no longer open to debate is the need for digital literacy. A recent report in The Guardian affirmed that adults with Internet skills are 25% more likely to get work and to earn as much as 10% more than their colleagues who don’t have such skills.

Assets you cannot touch lie behind successful innovations. What are they and how can policy make a difference?

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises have just been updated. What are the main changes and how might they affect international corporate behaviour?

How can policy help expand economic opportunities without overly straining natural resources or destroying the planet? And how can we relieve intensifying environmental pressures that currently threaten our welfare? The OECD Green Growth Strategy points a way forward.

Uncertainty about the future, eagerness to devise new ways of managing our economies, and to contribute to the debate on how to make better policies for better lives: these were just some of the discernable public moods at the OECD Forum, held on 24-25 May.

How willing are you to pay more for renewable energy? Judging by a survey we previewed in 2010 (see here for instance) and whose results have now been published, the answer is: not that much. Greening Household Behaviour shows that while people may change their habits if given the right incentives and information, they are not quite as ready to dip deeply into their pockets.

Development aid from OECD donor countries totalled $129 billion in 2010, the highest level ever, and an increase of 6.5% over 2009. But despite this record, the 2010 figures confirm that some donors are not meeting internationally agreed commitments.

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From housework and homemaking to gardening and local community work, both women and men do so-called “unpaid work” on top of their paid jobs.

A few decades ago the poorest in society were most likely to be pensioners. Now children are taking over that mantle, as poverty in households with children rises in nearly all OECD countries. Indeed, families with children are more likely to be poor today than in previous decades, according to Doing Better for Families, a new OECD report.

Why do some businesses, organisations, economies and even countries succeed in achieving their objectives while others do not? Important insights are provided if we treat each of these entities as a complex adaptive system, subject to the same processes as biological evolution.

This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of a remarkable organisation which has brought a huge and, in many ways, immeasurable impact to the economic and social development not only of its members, but of the world community of nations.

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.

When it comes to the environment, the OECD does not just tell a good green story to its members; as an institution, we are investing time and resources into practising what we preach. Achieving green growth and moving towards a low-carbon economy requires everyone in society to play their part. The OECD secretariat is no exception.

How can we all learn from a crisis? Today, we find ourselves in a disappointing, if not altogether unexpected, predicament. The very governments who took bold and decisive action in the period of the financial crisis 2008-09 to bail out banks and keep financial markets alive now find themselves on the receiving end of severe punishment from financial markets. How could this be?

©AFP

Microcredit has become a popular way to finance small businesses and local development projects, particularly in poorer countries. Economist, author, founder and first chairman of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Jacques Attali is founder of PlaNet Finance, which runs microfinance programmes in over 80 countries. In the run up to the OECD Forum in May 2011 where he is due to speak, Mr Attali talked to the OECD Observer.

Like the OECD, VAT has also been around for about 50 years. Is it time to reform some of the older, more unwieldy versions and go for a trimmer, broad-base, standard-rate VAT system instead?

The financial crisis has taken a heavy toll on government finances and taxpayers are still footing the bill. Could private investors do more to help out? Mohamed El-Erian, CEO and co-CIO of PIMCO, believes they should. He explains to the OECD Observer.

The recent financial crisis has left a hole in the public finances of many countries. Yet, with the right preparation, governments may have been better placed to fund that gap. This holds lessons for future crisis resolution strategies.

We are celebrating the OECD’s 50th anniversary during the tail-end of the worst financial and economic crisis of our lifetimes. It’s a good moment to take stock and to ask the right questions. Why couldn’t we avoid the crisis? Were the policies and the policy mix we promoted the right ones, and how can we adjust these polices to new realities? What is more, are we doing enough to prevent another crisis? Are our economic theories, our models and our assumptions still appropriate? How should our organisation’s work be adapted so that we continue fulfilling our founding mission of promoting better policies for better lives?

The OECD, a pioneer in the quest to measure the progress and well-being of societies, is launching an exciting new initiative, incorporating Your Better Life Index. The initiative is not only a major step forward in assessing people’s true welfare, but involves people in the process too.

In his first state of the union address on 30 January 1961, John F. Kennedy saw the newly formed OECD as an organisation that would “provide for the hopes for growth of the less developed lands.” The president expanded on this vision in this statement on the ratification of the OECD, issued on 23 March 1961.

Hey you, stop wurfing and read about the 26 billion buck haircut!

“To reform and to perform” is the goal of many a serious politician. It is not an easy task.

As we are now beginning to see the signs of a fragile recovery, the 2010 Forum will emphasise the role that innovation must play in the future of the transport sector. Decision-makers, experts and practitioners from all modes will consider the transport systems of tomorrow, the barriers that must be overcome to get there, and the innovative technologies, policies and collaborations needed for success.

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Although agriculture and industry are the thirstiest of all water consumers, household water use accounts for some 10-30% of total consumption in developed countries. As governments develop strategies to promote water conservation, an OECD survey of households conducted in 2008 offers insight into what really works. Based on some 10,000 responses across 10 countries, the answer is as clear as what comes out of the tap: having to pay for water encourages water-saving behaviour and investment in water-saving appliances, thus reducing consumption.

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Development aid for water supply and sanitation projects has risen in recent years after a decline in the late 1990s. Considering the importance of safe water, perhaps it hasn’t risen far enough. In 2007-08, OECD Development Assistance Committee countries committed on average $5.1 billion in bilateral annual aid to the water supply and sanitation sector, 50% up on 2003-04 in real terms. When combined with aid from multilateral agencies, the total was $6.6 billion. Over the 2003-08 period, bilateral aid to water increased by an annual average of 15%, while multilateral aid rose 3% annually. Still, for DAC countries, aid to the water supply and sanitation sector rose to just 7% of all aid commitments in 2007-08, only slightly up from 6% in 2003-04.

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.7% Q2 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% Sept 2017 annual
Trade: +1.4% exp, +1.7% imp, Q2 2017
Unemployment: 5.7% Sept 2017
Last update: 14 Nov 2017

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