From ‘Club of the Rich’ to ‘Globalisation à la carte’? Evaluating Reform at the OECD

Recognising the declining weight of its members in the world economy, the OECD, formerly known as a ‘club of rich, industrialised nations’, is undergoing unprecedented organisational reform, including a more inclusive membership logic, engagement with new global players, and outreach to developing countries, all with a view to guaranteeing its continued relevance as a central actor in the task of global policy provision. Using the concepts of global public goods, clubs and models of multilateralism, this article critically evaluates the successes and limits of the OECD’s reform, arguing that it is adopting a restrictive approach to expansion – globalisation ‘à la carte’. Meaningful reform towards greater inclusion is apparent in the way research on nonmembers has been mainstreamed, and in its increased work both with emerging powers and with developing countries. Limits to reform are found in institutional rigidities including its overrepresentation of Europe and underrepresentation of Asia and other continents, reflected through staff profiles and membership. These biases may in turn reduce its attractiveness as a global forum to new players, particularly China.

Shifts in the world economy towards the east and the south pose significant challenges to international organisations, which must ensure that processes of global governance fully involve key actors, in the quest for functional and legitimate global policy.
While many international organisations have near universal membership, the OECD was established as a club. However, it now recognises that it needs to engage key nonmembers in order to help govern the world economy.
The OECD is casting off its ‘club’ inheritance, particularly in terms of the services it provides, which are increasingly oriented to serving a broader community beyond members.
But future reform will be constrained until organisational change under way at the OECD manages to overcome its ‘club’ inheritance, and convinces emerging powers – particularly the BRICS – of the benefits of working with them.