The OECD Forum Bridging the Divides which I attended 6-7 June in Paris was in some ways an extraordinary event broaching some of the most challenging issues of these times. With so many losers from global capitalism and the immense pressures this has placed on political systems around the world, the Forum was certainly timely.
The Forum is held prior to the Ministerial meeting held this year 8-9 June involving ministers and representatives from the OECD member countries and a few weeks before the heads of state G20 meeting hosted this year by Germany and held in Hamburg. So the content of the Forum could be seen as an attempt by the OECD, as a key policy development body, to influence the direction of public policy in the many countries within its ambit.
Of course the Forum could also be seen as just another talk-fest but it was arguably a bold event engaging in some tough analysis of what’s going wrong. It identified 3 overlapping themes for discussion to move past the current crisis of social and economic polarisation – digitalisation, inclusive growth and trust…..More importantly its focus was on finding “actionable solutions”. The outstanding questions following the event then is – what happens now? and what did it achieve?
I came away from the Forum, feeling that at the very least it served an important purpose in establishing a conversation about growing social and economic polarisation. Public policy is struggling to keep up with the pace of change and the troubling outcomes for so many especially the decline in good jobs which enable people to get ahead, combined with growing wage and wealth inequality. But what sort of public policies do we need for these times to rebuild trust in political systems, to forge equitable outcomes from digitalisation, and to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are evenly distributed?
The Forum engaged a very wide range of speakers and participants from diverse fields to give some leadership on these questions. There were representatives of unions, innovative business sectors, and NGOs. There were government officials and academics and media representatives.
Important alternative voices about the current crisis , such as Professor Guy Standing, were given a space. Standing is calling for a universal basic income which was a subject for a session in its own right at the Forum. But in his recent book, which he discussed at the Forum, The Corruption of Capitalism, he is calling for a much wider set of reforms to reduce the rampant profit taking of core business sectors and the distortions in so many areas of public policy and governance which are pivotal in understanding why there are so many losers from the current system.
Denmark played a pivotal role in leading the Forum with the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Rasmussen, a keynote speaker. He promoted the Danish social and economic policy model of strong social protection and progressive taxation. Denmark does well also in terms of gender parity identified in the Forum as a core social and economic objective and important for economic growth. Denmark has managed over recent years to reduce unemployment and spectacularly, youth unemployment, a goal which has eluded so many countries. It has recently established a Disruption Council which brings together government and social partners to find pathways through the digital revolution that will maximise the benefits across the economy, the society – and of course the workforce.
Denmark proves that there are models for the amelioration to the current crisis. The recent G20 meeting in Hamburg took forward the promptings from the OECD forum and has endorsed its focus on inclusive growth and the need to counter the trend towards growing inequality….but will the G20 countries implement the needed policies…remains to be seen.
To be continued…..There was a lot of material to absorb and think about from the Forum and the following G20 meeting… so will continue writing about in a forthcoming post…