OECD Forum 2018 Impressions: Distilling the message from the noise

OECD Forum 2018 Impressions: Distilling the message from the noise

This article is part of the Forum Network series on International Co-operation

Wendy McGuinness is the founder and chief executive of the McGuinness Institute.

The world is messy and is likely to become even more so. There was a great deal of good intention at OECD Forum 2018, and general agreement that matters were urgent, but little agreement over the direction we should be taking or new policy instruments that could get us there. This is perhaps understandable considering the evolving role of the OECD and the changing political environment. What follows are my observations and some excerpts from the discussions.

Over two days, 4,000 attendees came together in Paris to hear some of the 80+ sessions and explore “What brings us together?” Discussions were loosely structured around three central and connected themes: inclusive growth, digitalisation and international co-operation.

OECD Conference Centre, Paris
Copyright OECD

Spending two intense days at the OECD is like walking into a beautiful library with only a few minutes to find the perfect book before closing time. There were so many speakers, authors and panellists it was hard to choose where to spend those valuable minutes. It is even harder to then step back and report on what I learnt but below is a list of high-level takeaways: 

  • The most disconcerting comment I heard was that “we have probably moved too late on climate change”. This was from French economist Oliver Blanchard, who is currently a professor at MIT in the United States. I think it was the way he said it rather than being anything new or surprising
Olivier Blanchard, Professor at MIT Department of Economics
Copyright OECD
  • The biggest losers in the dialogue were the rich and the global elite (e.g. Facebook); the gig economy (risks acknowledged but no new policy); climate change and defence (hardly mentioned); the media (or more accurately the lack of an effective, independent media); weak and unresponsive leaders; companies that undertake social or environmental dumping; and, of course, leaders who are taking us back to the law of the jungle (e.g. tariffs)
  • The biggest winners in the dialogue were, “Fiscal policy is the new game in town” and BEPS (base erosion and profit shifting); reconnecting citizens with representatives; rebooting democracy; policing the rule of law and protocols; international dialogue; social dialogue; inclusive growth; structural policy; and, of course, being multilateral

Towards a Wellbeing Budget
Copyright OECD
  • My favourite quote was, “Vision without execution is an hallucination”. This was from Amelie de Montchalin, a French MP, during the session The Future of the EU
Amelie de Montchalin speaking in The Future of the EU session
Copyright OECD
  • The best speaker was President Emmanuel Macron. He was able to traverse discussion of our history and our future while exploring how we might get to that future. My favourite lines were, “We will not be forgiven” by future generations, “The system we live in is not a sustainable system”, “We have a battle on all fronts” and “This is our battle”.
Emmanuel Macron: "This is our battle"
Copyright OECD

To conclude, I left the Forum with a lot to think about. It was inspiring to spend time with a group of highly driven and competent people, trying to get a handle on emerging issues and see their desire to bring about improvements for the less advantaged in society.

I was reminded of the risk of letting the urgent get in the way of the important; climate change will deliver more harm than most issues that were discussed, so the focus on social inclusion and multilateralism could have been more usefully framed in terms of climate change and building more durable infrastructure for the public good.

OECD Work on Climate Change
Copyright OECD

We need to be careful what we focus on. My experience is that noise, and noisy people, sap energy and waste time. The OECD has an increasingly important role in the world and it needs to remain focused and innovative. There are so many drivers and triggers that might undermine the system; the best approach may be to focus on making the system more stable and durable so that when (not if) shocks occur, citizens are prepared and able to deal with every eventuality.

Read the more detailed article on the McGuinness Institute Blog

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