Changing OECD, Changing World

June 28, 1994

OECD used to spell "the West." That is, Western and neutral Europe, plus the United States and Canada, plus Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In other words, the developed world, the industrial powers, the haves. Now look.

Founded in 1961, the OECD had 24 members since 1973. Earlier this year, Mexico made that 25. The Third World country on our doorstep, suddenly in the club of the sophisticated countries that have confidence in their statistics and ability to tell others how to lead more productive lives. Thank NAFTA. As a center of trade and industry in a free trade area with Canada and the United States, Mexico belongs.

Not only that. The OECD has decided to discuss the applications of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Three of those four former Soviet satellites have thrown out elected bourgeois capitalist governments for elected socialist governments (with leaders who used to be Communists) but all want to retain market economics and standing in the club. One of the purposes of the OECD is to badger them into efficient economics when their own politics creates obstacles.

Not only that, but the OECD expects to take in South Korea as soon as it applies, sponsored by Japan. South Korea belonged on economic powerhouse grounds decades ago, and qualified on democratic and human rights grounds more recently. Not only that. The OECD signed a cooperation accord with Russia, and contemplates one with China, which is growing too fast economically to be ignored but flunks the human rights test.

What's interesting about all this is that the OECD is a Cold War institution. It is a successor to the Marshall Plan for Reconstruction of Europe, which used U.S. capital to rebuild after the devastation of World War II. The Soviet Union refused to take part in the Marshall Plan and kept its satellites out. Hence the OECD became the West. Yugoslavia, in carving independence of Soviet hegemony, became an associate member until it self-destructed.

The letters stand for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Though its members are governments, it is a think tank, or an international bureaucracy. It collects data and makes studies and recommendations. Its pure economic focus has broadened to take in a variety of social, environmental and educational data. The OECD is not an action agency. But it tells an awful lot about the world. Like who belongs.

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