Remarks by Angel Gurría
9 March 2020 - Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)
State Secretary Ruuth, dear panellists, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you to launch the OECD’s How’s Life? 2020 edition.
At the OECD, we measure a lot of things. But there is nothing more important to measure for policy-makers than people’s well-being. This begs a rather fundamental question: How are we doing? Or as we say at the OECD, “How’s Life?”
And it is quite paradoxical that we present this report at a time when the world community is confronted with the risks, the uncertainty and the fear of a global pandemic.
The COVID-19 is revelatory of the great importance of health, and of health policies for people’s well-being.
It is a reminder of the complexity of well-being economics, and of the vulnerability of a highly interconnected world. It is a cue to the strategic relevance of multinational co-operation!
Let’s go to the results of this reports, starting with some good news.
Despite the daily onslaught of worrying news stories, life is getting better for the typical OECD resident.
Let me give you a few examples. Since 2010:
These are encouraging numbers! Yet, we must remember that not all OECD countries face the same realities. And people in those countries also face very different life experiences.
Striking economic and social inequalities persist in most OECD countries. Despite gains in material conditions on average, income inequalities have barely changed since the historically high level reached in 2010.
Also, although the battle for gender parity is strongly growing, it remains a distant goal.
And debt, disconnection and despair continue to hold well-being back:
The toll of “deaths of despair” from suicide, acute alcohol abuse and drug overdose - while still a small share of overall deaths across OECD countries - is three times higher than road deaths, and six times higher than deaths from homicide.
How’s Life? also points to important risks across natural, economic and social systems that threaten well-being in the future.
The current and fast-spreading coronavirus epidemic is just the latest disruption bringing profound threats to well-being. Not only to our health, but also to social connectedness and social capital, and to people’s incomes and livelihoods.
This is especially true for those in precarious jobs with insufficient safety nets to catch them if they were not able to go to work.
Just last week, our Interim Economic Outlook spelt out the scale of the possible economic impacts of the virus, and the actions governments must take to protect the most physically and financially vulnerable.
The coronavirus serves as a powerful reminder of how rapidly risks can spread in our globalised world. We appreciate the importance of having a well-functioning health care system when these risks strike.
But to secure future well-being, there is no alternative but to build up long-term protections and readiness against these risks.
The evidence provided by How’s Life? 2020 can lead governments to act and reshape their policy making in many fundamental ways. Several national and subnational governments are transforming their approach by applying a well-being lens. And we know that our work on well-being indicators has helped some of them advance this transformation.
New well-being metrics are used to shape long-term strategies (for example, in Slovenia or Scotland), to inform budgeting (New Zealand, France and Italy), or to evaluate the results of policies (as the United Kingdom does through its What Works Centre for Wellbeing). The OECD will accelerate its efforts to leverage well-being policy practices and catalyse the change towards people-centred policies.
Indeed, putting people’s well-being at the centre is the only way to address some of the most pressing challenges. The fair green transition; the quest for more inclusive forms of economic growth; the need to navigate the societal shifts brought by the digital age by ensuring decent work and good quality jobs for all.
These will be the key themes addressed by our Ministerial Council Meeting on “Digital, Green and Inclusive”, which will chart a path forward on sustainable growth and well-being. The MCM will also assess the progress made on the Beyond GDP Measurement Agenda, and suggest new directions for moving this Agenda faster and more ambitiously.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What is economics for if not to improve people’s lives? What is economic policy for if not to build more prosperous but also inclusive and cohesive societies? The ultimate purpose of policies is to raise the quality and wellbeing of people’s lives. Let’s not forget this crucial link.
The OECD will keep helping governments to enhance people’s well-being, so that next time somebody asks them “How’s Life”, they feel proud of the answer.