OECD. Scorekeeper for 24 rich nations
ONE function of the Organization for Economic Cooper-ation and Development is to keep economic score for its members, the noncommunist industrial nations. It tracks volumes of numbers (see charts), such as gross domestic product. (GDP is a measure of a nation's output of goods and services. Unlike gross national product, GDP excludes income from investments and other possessions abroad.)
Of course, the 24-nation organization does more than that. ``I found it a useful two-way street for presenting United States views and hearing the views of our friends overseas,'' says Murray Weidenbaum, chairman of President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers during part of his first term. Goal to achieve high growth
According to the convention creating the OECD, signed in Paris on Dec. 14, 1960, the organization promotes policies designed:
``To achieve the highest sustainable economic growth and employment and a rising standard of living in member countries, while maintaining financial stabililty, and thus to contribute to the development of the world economy.''
In regard to these goals, the OECD holds frequent meetings with dozens of officials and experts from the member countries. Government ministers, civil servants ranging from economists and statisticians to undersecretaries of government departments, university professors, bankers, and so on get together to consider a wide range of topics.
Among subjects: development, trade, financial markets, fiscal affairs, maritime transport, multinational enterprises, capital movements and services, consumer affairs, technical cooperation, environment, urban affairs, science and technology, manpower and social affairs, education, labor-management relations, agriculture.
OECD economists twice a year review the status of the economies of the industrial nations as a group. Every year or two they look at the economies of individual nations, making comments that often land on the financial pages -- if not the front pages -- of newspapers.
They also conduct special studies on various topics. A recent one, for instance, looked at the level of social expenditures in member nations. It found that spending on such areas as education, health, pensions, and other income maintenance programs in OECD countries grew from 13.1 percent of their output of goods and services in 1960 to 25.6 percent in 1981.
In addition, a group of top-level government economists, known as Working Party 1 of the Economic Policy Committee, meets every several weeks to hash over national economic policies. It is usually headed by the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the US president. Working Party 3 looks at balance-of-payments issues. (Working Party 2 no longer exists.) No coordination attempted
Mr. Weidenbaum, who chaired the Economic Policy Committee, said that during the Reagan administration there has been no attempt to coordinate economic policy of the industrial nations at the OECD. ``Our position . . . was that each country should set its own economic course,'' he said. ``There should be no worldwide economic planning.''
Each nation, however, could do ``a better job'' of its own economic planning if it understood the economic situation and problems of its allies, he added.
Weidenbaum also found the Paris meetings helpful in preparing the groundwork for the annual economic summit. While attending the OECD meetings, the top government economists of the seven summit nations would get together to draft statements for the finance ministers to consider.
OECD Secretary-General Jean-Claude Paye, looking back four or five years, finds improved cooperation among the industrial countries. There is better understanding, less ideology, he says. ``We're all in the same boat, and we are compelled to cooperate better and to get rid of dogmatic approaches.''
Most observers would reckon that all this OECD-sponsored talk and study, costing $100 million a year, has done at least something to promote the welfare of the world, and especially of the well-to-do industrial nations.
So far none of the so-called ``newly industrialized countries,'' such as Singapore, Taiwan, Brazil, or South Korea, have been brought into the OECD, although some of them have higher incomes per capita than the poorer OECD members (Turkey, Greece, Portugal).