OECD Observer
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Study abroad

More students are looking beyond their borders to give their education a competitive edge. 

Investment dries up

The fallout from uncertainty that continues to undermine the global economy is reflected in international investment, which is falling once again, following two years of steady gains.

Restart-up?

Start-up rates in OECD countries are slowly edging back to their pre-crisis levels, but not all countries have seen significant acceleration in new businesses, according to Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2012

Health spending slows

For the first time in decades, health spending has not increased in real terms on average across OECD countries. According to figures published in the latest OECD health data 2012, the growth in health spending in 2010 slowed or turned negative in almost all OECD countries. 

Budget pressures affect aid

Aid from major donors in the OECD area to developing countries fell by nearly 3% in 2011, ending a long trend of annual increases: until 2011, aid had been increasing for more than a decade, and by 63% between 2000 and 2010, the year it reached its peak.

City air

If you are reading this in a big city, the air you are breathing may be doing you harm. Though over 50% of the world’s population now live in urban areas, only 2% of the global urban population lives with acceptable concentrations of particulate matter, or PM, which can cause breathing and respiratory diseases, cancer and premature death. 

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The state’s anti-poverty effect

Poverty rates are usually a measure of personal income. But how can public services affect relative poverty, that is, when the monetary value of public services, known as “extended income” is brought into the equation? 

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How’s life?

Inequality is usually thought of in terms of income or wealth, but it might make even more sense to think of it in terms of how satisfied people are with their lives. A recent study, How’s Life?, attempts to shed light on people’s experience and the variation in life satisfaction within countries. 

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Where to cut?

As governments around the world attempt to bring deficits under control and debt to manageable levels, just where to find the savings is a tricky question. Governments face a delicate balancing act as they try to achieve real fiscal discipline without mortally wounding public services, often in precarious political circumstances. 

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Who pays if you’re sick?

Emerging economies have made good progress on health coverage recently, but the share of out-of-pocket payments in total health expenditure remains significantly higher than in most advanced countries.

e-Gov

Banks in the balance

Whether or not you believe they have been reformed enough, few institutions have received as much attention during the current economic crisis as banks.

But how much money do they really control and how can their behaviour affect our economies so much?

Output shifts

Despite two decades of outsourcing and globalisation, the US remains the world’s largest manufacturer in 2009. However, its share of world value-added in manufacturing declined from around 22.7% of the total in 1990 to less than 20% in 2009. China’s share rose from a minute 2.7% to 17.5% over the same period, taking over Japan, hitherto the world’s second largest manufacture, whose share dropped from 17.7% to 11.4% over the two decades.

Nuclear power worries

The Fukushima tragedy in Japan in March 2011 has unsettled the nuclear energy outlook. Nuclear power started out almost 60 years ago with the Obninsk plant near Moscow in 1954, but after strong growth in the 1960s and 1970s, the industry declined sharply in the 1980s due to costs, delays and safety concerns after the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979, and the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986.

Main economic indicators by country

GDP, output, inflation, current account, unemployment, interest rates for 40 countries plus euro area, as published in OECD Observer. Just print it out and pin it up.

Jobs with small children

Most people would probably agree that female employment and maternity leave are related issues. But did you know that female employment rates are not always highest in countries where paid maternity leave is longest?

Your better life trends

The OECD’s Your Better Life Index, launched at the 50th anniversary OECD Forum on 24 May, lets users from the general public weigh up the factors (initially from a list of 11) they feel matter most in assessing their well-being.

Migration in a crisis

Migration into OECD countries fell by about 7% in 2009 to 4.3 million people, down from just over 4.5 million in 2008. Recent national data suggest migration numbers fell further in 2010, the 2011 International Migration Outlook says.

Food inflation rises

Food prices have increased over the year to January 2011 in many of the world’s economies. Moreover, those increases, which accelerated from mid-2010, reversed the downward trend in food prices of 2009 and the first half of 2010, OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-2020 says. Threequarters of the OECD countries recorded retail food price increases of 5% or less, while price increases exceeded that in half a dozen or so countries. Two OECD countries, Korea and Estonia, experienced increases of over 10%. Brazil, China, Indonesia and Russia all had double-digit rates of food infl ation during the year to January 2011, well up on the previous year. In South Africa, food prices increased by a moderate 3.3%, though this represented a doubling from the rate of the previous year. Food price inflation also accelerated in the second half of 2010 in several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Renewable electricity bills

How willing are you to pay more for renewable energy? Judging by a survey we previewed in 2010 (see here for instance) and whose results have now been published, the answer is: not that much. Greening Household Behaviour shows that while people may change their habits if given the right incentives and information, they are not quite as ready to dip deeply into their pockets.

Development aid to slow

Development aid from OECD donor countries totalled $129 billion in 2010, the highest level ever, and an increase of 6.5% over 2009. But despite this record, the 2010 figures confirm that some donors are not meeting internationally agreed commitments.

Child poverty rises

A few decades ago the poorest in society were most likely to be pensioners. Now children are taking over that mantle, as poverty in households with children rises in nearly all OECD countries. Indeed, families with children are more likely to be poor today than in previous decades, according to Doing Better for Families, a new OECD report.

Gender’s development dimension

Could action on gender help jumpstart efforts to make the Millennium Development Goals deadline by 2015? The third goal already explicitly aims to “promote gender equality and empower women” (MDG3), but gender has a direct and profound impact on several other targets, too.

Policy innovations

Anyone who doubts that policy can spur innovation should look at the Kyoto Protocol. After it was adopted in 1997, the number of patents for certain technologies used to mitigate climate change climbed worldwide. In fact, just six years later, the number of patents on wind technologies had grown more than five-fold, and those on solar photovoltaic and hydro/marine technologies had more than doubled. The number of new patents for other climate change mitigation technologies, such as carbon capture, biofuels and geothermal energy also rose, though at a rate that was not much faster than the increase for patents in general over the same period.

Water quality and conservation

Although agriculture and industry are the thirstiest of all water consumers, household water use accounts for some 10-30% of total consumption in developed countries. As governments develop strategies to promote water conservation, an OECD survey of households conducted in 2008 offers insight into what really works. Based on some 10,000 responses across 10 countries, the answer is as clear as what comes out of the tap: having to pay for water encourages water-saving behaviour and investment in water-saving appliances, thus reducing consumption.

Water aid

Development aid for water supply and sanitation projects has risen in recent years after a decline in the late 1990s. Considering the importance of safe water, perhaps it hasn’t risen far enough. In 2007-08, OECD Development Assistance Committee countries committed on average $5.1 billion in bilateral annual aid to the water supply and sanitation sector, 50% up on 2003-04 in real terms. When combined with aid from multilateral agencies, the total was $6.6 billion. Over the 2003-08 period, bilateral aid to water increased by an annual average of 15%, while multilateral aid rose 3% annually. Still, for DAC countries, aid to the water supply and sanitation sector rose to just 7% of all aid commitments in 2007-08, only slightly up from 6% in 2003-04.

Current trends

Global electricity demand declined in 2009 for the first time since the end of World War II according to OECD estimates. Electricity demand experienced a constant climb over the second half of the 20th century through the oil crises of the 1970s, the Black Monday crash of 1987, and on through the dot-com bubble bursting at the turn of the millennium as development countered all downward forces. The credit crunch of 2008 though, has resulted in a drop of as much as 1.6% based on OECD figures derived from the IMF’s latest GDP growth forecast for 2009.

Environmental aid

Although the environment is high on the international policy agenda, development aid for the environment has declined in relation to total aid since 1996. This trend comes despite an increase in overall aid funding: from 2004 to 2005, total official development assistance (ODA) rose 32% to a record high of US$107.1 billion, though eased back somewhat in 2006 (see development setback news brief).

US energy

The United States is dependent on fossil fuels for almost all its energy supply. Coal dominates electricity generation, accounting for half of its power production, with nuclear and natural gas around one-fifth each.

Switching on

We live in an age of gadgets and gigabytes. Our mobile phones have morphed into multi-tasking life-support systems, with inbuilt cameras, calendars and messaging services. Computers are ever faster child’s play, and Internet allows us 24-hour access to the rest of the world. However, all of this comes at a price: our increasing reliance upon electricity.