Happy birthday, OECD Observer!


The Rolling Stones aren’t the only ones celebrating 50 years.


November also marks the 50th anniversary of the OECD Observer, the award-winning public magazine of the OECD. The brainchild of Thorkil Kristensen, the first secretary general of the organisation, the OECD Observer was launched at the 2nd ministerial meeting 27-28 November 1962. He recruited a former war resistant and political journalist from his native Denmark, Anker Randsholt, to do the job. The audience? Busy policymakers who had no time “to read more than a fraction” of the OECD’s already considerable and somewhat technical work.


In those post-war decades divulging information to the public was a delicate exercise. Policy had inched forward in a Cold War atmosphere of confidentiality, not to mention paranoia. Today, information is currency, and as Kristensen wrote in the first editorial, by ensuring the OECD Observer was distributed at the 1962 ministerial meeting, “a step was taken towards a wider dissemination of this [organisation’s] knowledge.”


In effect, the OECD Observer became a public gateway to the work of the Organisation. Along the way it would fill other roles: a podium for laying out and discussing policy messages and unlocking tough ideas; an academic reference; and a rich and compelling archive. 


Flicking through old issues is like taking a trip through modern history. From a heartfelt obituary for John F. Kennedy penned by Kristensen in December 1963 through the landing on the moon in 1969, the oil crisis of the early 1970s, privatisation in the 1980s, the information revolution and globalisation in the 1990s, to the economic crisis now: the OECD Observer captures the story of our times.




Anker Randsholt ©OECD/Leo Jouan, 1966

Anker Randsholt ©OECD/Leo Jouan, 1966

Thumb through and you will find photographs of well-known personalities in their heyday running policy meetings here: Gro Harlem Brundtland, Alan Greenspan, Garret Fitzgerald, and a sprightly Jacques Chirac to name but a few.


Many articles serve as a sharp reminder that many policy challenges still persist, for instance, concerning the environment, the taxation of company profits, and development. The first article in the first edition in November 1962 asks “What makes economies grow?”, and a June 1970 piece says that the main obstacle to efficiency in financial markets is the lack of information.


How we all would have done well to read that article again before the current crisis!


Looking beyond GDP also preoccupied minds then. In June 1973, nearly 40 years before the launch of the OECD’s Better Life Initiative in 2011, you could read an article entitled “How to measure well-being”, announcing a project to develop indicators as a yardstick for the “quality of life”.


Solid references have long shelf lives, and articles like Angus Maddison’s “The West and the Rest” epic in the 40th anniversary edition, Flip de Kam and Chiara Bronchi’s “The income taxes you really pay”, and a 1968 piece on student unrest by George Papadopoulos are still requested today. One of the most popular articles is about school bullying, written in 1999 by Norwegian scholar Dan Olweus. It still gets online comments, sometimes (sadly) from victims of bullying.


No doubt today’s OECD Observer will be read as attentively in years to come.


As Thorkil Kristensen intended, editorials by our secretaries-general have always led the charge, a habit maintained by the present OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría’s clarion call for better policies for better lives.


What also makes the OECD Observer special is its blend of analysis and opinion on pressing issues from the organisation’s own experts with guest views from government leaders and ministers, business and labour chiefs, NGO representatives, academics and journalists. This reflects both the association value of the OECD brand and a determination to forge open policy discussion.


In a sector which has seen Newsweek and many other magazines go online if not to the wall, the OECD Observer has innovated to stay ahead.  The web edition has been in action since 1999, and optimised for smart phones since 2008. And thumbing through the archive will soon be replaced by browsing it, as the entire 50 years worth of digital archives will be rolled out on all platforms in the New Year.


Thomas Jefferson once warned never to judge people by their age but by their works. His wisdom applies to the Rolling Stones, and also to the OECD Observer. Like Mick Jagger, the magazine still rocks.


Rory Clarke, Editor-in-Chief since 1999


November 2012



All cited articles can be searched online or found at except:


Papadopoulos, George (1968), Student unrest: Impact on educational systems, the economy and society in general, in OECD Observer, No 37, December, available on request to


30 November also marks the anniversary of the death of Anker Randsholt, first editor of the OECD Observer, in 2004. He was 88. This interview appeared in the 40thanniversary edition in 2002.



Related Documents