Remarks by Angel Gurría
Paris, 3 October 2017
(As prepared for delivery)
Professor Lindert, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for joining for the fifth Angus Maddison Development Lecture.
This lecture that the Development Centre hosts now for the fifth time has become a tradition. It is not only a tribute to the brilliant Professor Angus Maddison, it is also a great opportunity to discuss the defining challenges of our era. These provide food for thought and also have the potential to identify and develop better policies for better lives.
As many of you know, Professor Maddison was an outstanding economic historian. He liked to call himself a chiffrephile – so, naturally, he felt at home here at the OECD. During his career he built an intellectual legacy leading to an impressive volume of work including: the publication of the first Yearbook of Education Statistics, which later became one of the building blocks of PISA; his widely-used historical series of national GDP and population, dating back to 1820; an account of the World Economy since A.D. 1; and the Chinese economic performance in the long run: 960-2030 AD, to name but a few achievements. His contributions are still at the heart of the evidence-based advice and the tools that we provide governments to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.
To honour the intellectual legacy of Angus Maddison, this year we are pleased to welcome Professor Peter Lindert, a Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of California in Davis and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He has published extensively on modern inequality trends, the welfare state, human fertility, currencies, the international debt crisis, farm policy, and soil history. In his distinguished career, Professor Lindert has worked to answer some of the questions that are central to our debates here at the OECD: Does globalisation make the world more unequal? How big should government be? Does social spending deter economic growth?
Tonight, Professor Lindert will address a fundamental question to understand how economic systems and models can deliver economic and social justice for all: ‘The rise and future of progressive redistribution’.
His talk will focus upon his timely analysis of the historical evolution of redistribution and reveal his projections for future trends. These are based on estimates of fiscal distribution in 53 countries, 34 of which are members of the Development Centre. His analysis is in line with many strands of work that are currently underway at the OECD.
In particular, Professor Lindert’s research complements the OECD’s body of work on inequality and on the inclusive growth initiative. By comparing income inequalities both before and after taxes and transfers among its members; and by exploring the best redistributive policies in the digital age, Professor Lindert’s research provides us with valuable insights to take our work forward, both in the NAEC and the Inclusive Growth spheres.
His research can also inspire the OECD’s strategic foresight exercises on the future trends of redistribution. While evidence of the historical changes in redistribution has significantly improved, the when, where, how, and why have governments shifted their redistributive policies over time are yet to be fully examined and understood. By forcing us to test and contest our assumptions, strategic foresight can strengthen our capacity to identify and make sense of signals and trends which may be less familiar to us. Ultimately, as we show in our recent work on “Megatrends to 2050: What better policies for better lives?” and “Trends Shaping Education”, strategic foresight can help us anticipate the unexpected and meet emerging challenges.
Last but not least, his research is well aligned with the ongoing work of our Development Centre on non-fiscal redistributive policies and institutions. For example, the Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index – the SIGI – measures discrimination against women in formal and informal laws, social norms and practices across 160 countries. The Development Centre has also created the Social Protection Systems Review tool and carried out analysis in ten countries in Africa and Asia. The first publication of this effort “Social Protection in East Africa”, is a strategic foresight piece that explores the interaction between demographics, economic development, climate change and social protection in six countries in East Africa between now and 2065.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
In his book, How Numbers Rule the World, Lorenzo Fioramonti writes “We cannot dispute that numbers largely run our societies. They have become driving forces behind our social, economic and political decisions”. Evidence and data are at the core of Professor Lindert’s research and of our work here at the OECD.
This is increasingly relevant in a world where post-truth echoes attempt to challenge rational thinking, it is doubly important to promote the evidence-based analysis that will help us build better policies for better lives.
So without further ado, let us hear from Professor Lindert as our Angus Maddison Development Series Lecturer.