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 majestic start: How the OECD was won”, in OECD Yearbook 2011 

©OECD Observer, Issue No 297, Q4 2013




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

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 paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • The annual OECD Eurasia Week takes place in Almaty, Kazakhstan 23-25 October. Writing in The Astana Times, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría urges Eurasia countries to stay the course on openness and international integration, which has brought prosperity but also disillusionment, notably regarding inequality. The OECD is working with this key region, and Mr Gurría urges Eurasia to focus on human capital and innovation to enhance productivity and people’s well-being. Read more.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • 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 .

Most Popular Articles

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 2017