Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at “New Directions in Welfare” Congress
OECD, Wednesday, 6 July 2011
(As prepared for delivery)
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a great pleasure to open the Congress on “New Directions in Welfare”. The topic of this congress resonates well with the OECD mandate. Our organisation was founded 50 years ago to foster economic prosperity and development by supporting policy makers around the world with advice on “better policies for better lives.”
This means that our focus goes beyond growth, income and financial conditions. We address the various dimensions of well-being, by putting particular emphasis on employment, social and family policies, people skills and competencies, their health and the quality of the environment in which they live and work.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Better lives cannot be captured only by the total amount of the goods and services produced, but also by how they are distributed. The well-being of the ‘typical’ person matters, but so do the inequalities within each country and among countries. And this concerns especially the conditions of people that are at the bottom of the well-being ladder, people with low income, poor health and little education.
For these reasons, the OECD @ 50 reaffirms its strong commitment to “go structural” but also to “go social” and to support more inclusive growth. At our anniversary Ministerial we launched major initiatives that underpin this strategic direction.
1. The Better Life Initiative
Let me start with our Better Life Initiative. What we measure shapes what we strive to pursue. Building on our almost ten-year path-finding work on Measuring Progress, this initiative puts citizens at the heart of the definition of progress and well-being. It is a quite broad-based international attempt to present comparative evidence on progress, leaning on material living conditions, quality of life and level of satisfaction.
A central element of this initiative is a web-based, interactive Better Life Index that will enable analysts and ordinary citizens to assess their well-being according to their own preferences. This is a major step forward in assessing people’s true welfare that also makes them part of the process. Indeed, this is not an OECD Better Life Index; it is Your Better Life Index. It is a new way of learning what people value more. This includes governments, which can learn from this data to shape policies and get better results.
Through this Index, users will be able to compare well-being across 34 countries, based on 11 dimensions which are essential to asses our quality of life: housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance.
By assigning their own weights to each dimension, people will be able to see how the emphasis they place on any particular factor affects the relative position of each country. These assessments will enable OECD experts to identify and analyse patterns of preferences and distil the lessons they teach about policies that promote well-being. And we will do this, encouraged by the warm welcome of this initiative, with over one million page viewers and more than 19 000 people who have shared their Better Life Indexes on the Internet, since it was launched.
2. Better social policies for better lives
Secondly, this important work is complemented by OECD efforts in other areas, placing our imperative to “go social” into a comprehensive framework. Our indicators, analysis and policy recommendations for employment, education, skills, health and social policies have made the Organisation a strong ally of workers and businesses and of all stakeholders interested in job creation, equal opportunities and inclusive participation.
As outlined in our recent Social Policy Ministerial, overcoming inequalities by targeted social policies, by family and gender policies, by fostering intergenerational solidarity and by investing in the future of our children, will be crucial ingredients for future growth and development. The OECD will continue advising governments on all these issues to support their efforts toward the goal of shared prosperity.
3. Green and Growth can go together
Thirdly, we focus on raising living standards by promoting growth without endangering the planet. In today’s world, welfare has an environmental dimension: progress of well-being is no longer a choice between a growing economy and cleaner planet, it is about both.
Indeed, in the 20th century the world population grew 4 times, economic output 22 times and fossil fuel consumption 14 times. This puts the resilience of a wide range of environmental systems to the test. It affects human health and well-being. But since the Rio Earth Summit almost twenty years ago, we have known that green and growth must go together. So, what is new about green growth now? Let me give you a simple answer: it is about making it happen.
This is exactly what the OECD is aiming to achieve. At the 50th Anniversary Ministerial we launched a Green Growth Strategy to assist policy makers and stakeholders across the board to address the major global environmental challenges of today’s world, while expanding economic opportunities. The Strategy encompasses both policy recommendations to make economic growth “greener” and a set of indicators to monitor progress towards green growth. Thus, the strategy is first and foremost about implementing change and achieving a common purpose: a world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier.
4. A new approach to development
Fourthly, we are also doubling our efforts to help developing nations find a path to sustainable growth. Today we must not lose sight of the major welfare challenge: poverty. Any policy decisions we take must be scrutinised in terms of poverty reduction and development.
The good news is that the centre of economic gravity is moving from the industrialised to the large developing economies. And shifting wealth is also associated with more than 500 million people out of poverty in the developing world.
The shift we have witnessed over the years is just the beginning. There is still some way to go before developing countries achieve their full potential and greater prosperity for their citizens. At our anniversary Ministerial meeting, OECD leaders asked the Secretariat to develop a comprehensive Strategy on Development to help the widest number of countries achieve higher and more inclusive, sustainable growth.
The Strategy will take a multi-dimensional perspective on development, reflecting important factors that affect the well-being of citizens. Our new approach builds on the OECD’s collective expertise in a wide range of policy areas from innovation to investment, food security, technology, to education and skills to name a few. It aims to facilitate policy sharing and mutual learning to bring new perspectives for addressing inequality and poverty. It ultimately aims to support developing countries in identifying, assessing and implementing better policies that lead to better lives.
Thus, the OECD Strategy on Development will combine our long standing experience in all these policy areas and 50 years of lessons learned in development cooperation. It will also respect the different needs and challenges of developing countries, and incorporate best practices emerging from cooperation between them, including South-South and triangular cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The OECD @ 50 strives to improve the prospects of growth and welfare in Member and partner countries, encourages civic participation and equality of opportunities, and seeks to realign the economy with the environment. I am happy to see that most of these issues, which are fundamental for progress and policy making in general, feature prominently on your agenda.
To borrow a quote from Amartya Sen, “What is important to people is to be able to do and be." Improving their quality of life and their sense of fulfilment should be the ultimate target of public policies.
I look forward to your talented, creative and innovative ideas to help us achieve the outcomes that matter the most for people’s lives and for he progress of our societies.