Almost every week, month after month, ambassadors from 24 major industrial nations gather together in Paris to seek out solution, energy supply shortages, and how to increase industrial production. That effort at international discussion alone should earn more than passing appreciation this week as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Located in a magnificant chateau near the Bois de Boulogne, the OECD over the past two decades has become the major research and "early warning" economic arm of the Western world and Japan. With a budget of $150 million the OECD has sought to stay out front of emerging economic and social trends, while consistently seeking mutual compromise and conciliation of international problems. In the process it has worked tirelessly to promote free trade in a worldwide climate of growing protectionism, and encouraged richer nations to step up their foreign aid contributions to the third world.
Some friendly observers of the organization, such as noted French economist Pierre Uri, question the OECD's ability actually to solve problems. "It's a remarkable research organization," Mr. Uri is quoted as saying, but "it is not effective. . . . it should produce more action."
To respond, one cannot help but recall the flurry of diplomacy by Western nations following the OECD oil price shocks of the early 1970s that subsequently led to the formation withint he OECD of the International Energy Agency. Since formation of the IEA back in 1974, the industrial nations have successfully slashed oil imports, while developing alternative energy sources and effective conservation programs.
OECD recommendations have been highly important to smaller nations such as Greece and Turkey that do not have extensive research organizations. And while the organization has not had as much success as it erhaps should in encouraging larger aid contributions to the developing world, it has repeattedly stood as both as goad and yardstick of practical idealism on such questions.
Looking toward the future, the problems that will be faced by OECD member nations will be no less urgent -- and likely a good deal more complicated -- than those face in the past. The OECD has to date fulfilled an important and vital international role.