President Kennedy and the OECD

©JFK Library

50 years ago, on 22 November 1963, US President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The shockwave of that tragedy rocked the world and still reverberates today. The sadness at President Kennedy’s untimely death was equally heartfelt in the corridors of the OECD, an international organisation whose creation in September 1961 he personally and strongly supported.

President Kennedy proudly evoked the OECD project in his first State of the Union address on 30 January 1961, and expounded his vision for the organisation in his ratification statement two months later. In that statement, issued on 23 March, President Kennedy said:

On behalf of the United States, I have ratified the convention establishing the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. I have done so with great satisfaction, and with expectations that [it] will become one of the principal institutions through which we pursue the great aim of consolidating the Atlantic Community. As I said in my inaugural address, ’United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do–for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.’

In giving its advice and consent to this act of ratification, the United States senate has affirmed the intention of the United States to enter upon a new era of co-operative enterprise with our Atlantic partners. We face a broad spectrum of common economic problems.

And OECD should prove a useful forum in which the member states can consider and act together on a number of the vital questions. The first OECD secretary-general, the late Thorkil Kristensen, whose last meeting with President Kennedy was scheduled for October 1963, just a month before the assassination, was adamant about the vital role President Kennedy had played in establishing the OECD.

“Normally one would not expect a head of state to have much to do with an international organisation”, Kristensen wrote in an obituary in the OECD Observer, “but the OECD owes unusually much to the late John F Kennedy because of his invigorating influence in its formative stage.”

Kennedy understood the “interdependence of the continents”, Kristensen pointed out, and this inspired the president’s global vision for the organisation. For instance, President Kennedy was particularly keen from the very outset that, for the OECD to make sense, Japan should become a member. Regrettably he did not live to see that day materialise, for Japan joined the organisation in 1964 (though they signed the accession agreement in 1963). Nor was Kennedy’s vision focused on the developed world; rather he saw the organisation as a hub of knowledge and experience that would radiate outwards and provide for “the hopes for growth of the less-developed lands”. It is a vision that led President Kennedy to propose the creation of the OECD Development Centre in May 1961.

 President Kennedy, or Jack as he was popularly known, was a person of remarkable energy and intelligence, and his sense of leadership and charisma won him admiration and respect in all walks of society and throughout the world. He symbolised a new optimism of hope and unity, and helped open a whole chapter in history which is still unfolding today. Though gone 50 years ago this week, John F Kennedy remains an icon of our times. The OECD stands as a living tribute to his legacy.

John F Kennedy would be 96 today. OECD Secretary-General Kristensen’s closing lines still ring true: “It is difficult to accept that he is no longer among us.” Rory Clarke


President Kennedy on a visit to the 82e Division Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 12 Oct 1961


References

President Kennedy’s statement on the Ratification of the OECD Convention, 23 March 1963, courtesy of John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters at the American Presidency Project

President Kennedy’s 1961 Annual State of the Union message to Congress, 30 January 1961

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría, statement to mark the 50th anniversary of untimely death of US President John F. Kennedy, 22 November 2013

Clarke, Rory, Lyndon Thompson (2011) “A m: How the OECD was won”, in OECD Yearbook 2011 

©OECD Observer, Issue No 297, Q4 2013




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Passionate about international taxation? The Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law is currently looking for a Research and Teaching Associate at the Christian Doppler Laboratory. For further information, click here.
  • In the long-run, the EU benefits from migration, says OECD Head of International Migration Division Jean-Christophe Dumont.
  • Is technological progress slowing down. Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • An employee prepares breakfast in front of the Eiffel tower at the Parisian luxury hotel Le Plaza Athenee, France July 30, 2015. Nowhere in the world has more accommodation available on Airbnb than Paris. Now the home-sharing website that has transformed budget travel to the French capital is giving its super-deluxe hotels a fright too (©REUTERS/Stephane Mahe).
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • On 19-20 September, come and visit the OECD to learn more about our home and our work.
  • Low interest rates here to stay for half a century, says OECD director Adrian Blundell-Wignall.
  • OECD speak on support it will offer to Greek
  • Bill Gates visited the OECD on 26 June. He met with the Secretary-General Angel Gurría to discuss areas of collaboration with his foundation and participated at a briefing session on official development assistance modernisation with OECD experts.
  • The People’s Republic of China decided to enhance longstanding collaboration with the OECD and to join the OECD Development Centre, in a historic visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on 1 July to the OECD in Paris.
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • One dollar in aid for trade generates eight dollars in extra trade for all developing countries and 20 dollars for low-income countries. Read OECD Secretary General's post on the newly released Aid for Trade at a glance 2015.
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • 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 .
  • Come va la vita in Italia? How's life in Italy? The OECD Better Life Index is an interactive online platform in seven languages that goes beyond GDP by offering important insights into measuring well-being and quality of life. Try it for yourself!
  • The IMF calls for a decisive energy subsidy reform in order to use the freed resources to meet critical public spending needs and to reduce pollution ahead of the Paris climate change summit.
  • Have a look at these posters representing a world without fundamental rights at work – including child labour, forced labour and inequality. Read more about this ILO image competition here.
  • Africa vs profit shifting African countries heavily rely on the income generated by multinationals’ taxation, which can represent as much as 88% of a country’s tax base. Little wonder Africa is involved in the OECD’s initiative to address tax base erosion caused by profit shifting, known as BEPS. The need to strengthen inter-governmental co-operation to curb cross-border tax losses was reaffirmed at the Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) in Sandton on 21 April 2015.
  • Africa v. profit shifting
  • After three decades of extraordinary economic development, China is shifting to a slower and more sustainable growth path, according to the OECD's latest Economic Survey of China.

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Unemployment
Global warming
International conflict
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015