CUTTING ROOM: For Bob Geldof, the Jubilee beat goes on; economists are revolting; American can-do; and why the OECD should lock journalists up ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: For Bob Geldof, the Jubilee beat goes on; economists are revolting; American can-do; and why the OECD should lock journalists up ... Evan Davis at large - January again already. Thank goodness we all made it through 2000 intact. Not since 19

by EVAN DAVIS, economics editor of BBC's Newsnight
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

January again already. Thank goodness we all made it through 2000 intact. Not since 1984 had a calendar year endured such intense analysis.

As it was, 2000 wasn't that bad in the end - most of the 'new millennium' claptrap had been expended in 1999, and life was more or less as normal.

As for 2001, the biggest casualty is the group campaigning against third world debt, Jubilee 2000. It was always intended as an ephemeral protest organisation, calling for one big millennial debt write-off for poor countries (in line with the Old Testament tradition of jubilee, which entailed writing off debts and freeing slaves every 50 years). Having persuaded right-minded people that debt should be reduced but having failed to get the politicians to implement the plan in full, the group has faced one of those huge strategic questions: does it continue to fight beyond its Y2K sell-by date, or does it give up with its objectives unmet? I'm told there have been six months of debate about it, but the conclusion is that the Jubilee 2000 brand will disappear. Corporate executives take note: few profit-oriented companies voluntarily write their own farewell with such grace and dignity, and few would do so even if their shareholders were better served by a liquidation of the assets with the money put elsewhere.

But in case you fear that Jubilee 2000's demise means celebrity debt campaigners such as Bob Geldof, Bono and the Pope are left with nowhere to turn, you'll be pleased to hear that the group is spawning new debt campaigns - Jubilee Plus, Drop the Debt and Debt Network. Notice they have not tempted fate this time round by putting dates into their names.

Exciting news from the staid world of academic economists. A rebellion is in the air. It's all to do with the crazy economics of learned journals.

Believe it or not, academics pay to submit papers to these journals; the articles are judged by other academics, who provide their editorial services for nothing. And then the publishers charge a fortune for the academics to buy the journals they themselves have written.

For example, a library subscription to Elsevier's Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization costs dollars 1,074 a year (compared with pounds 42 for MT).

Now though, the economics profession is waking up to the lopsided structure of the market, and subversive e-mails are scurrying around university departments in effort to organise a rival network of non-profit publications. Good luck to them.

Spare a thought for the poor staff at the press office of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. The OECD is a sprawling international government think-tank that employs huge numbers of decent economists and enjoys a near-monopoly of reliable international statistics.

The press office goes to inordinate lengths to help journalists, without expecting favours in return. You'd think we might show some gratitude.

But au contraire. Journalists go out of their way to make life difficult for the poor OECD. How? Well, each six months, the OECD produces its Economic Outlook, a compendium of useful articles, reports on individual countries and lots of tables. The report is handed to the press before publication to give writers time to scrutinise it, on condition that nothing is reported till the specified publication date. Alas, almost every time the report is released, one newspaper or another breaks the embargo and spills the contents ahead of everybody else. It was Le Monde that jumped the gun last time. The OECD is unsure how to stop this practice. It's hard enough having an orderly publication release within one country, let alone across the world. I suspect the tougher Anglo-Saxon approach to publishing important documents may be needed - as applied by the Bank of England and sometimes by the Treasury and National Statistics. That is, you don't let journalists have any information you don't want them to use, unless you have locked them in a room where they cannot phone, send messages or engage in semaphore with the world outside.

Talking of 2001, this may be the year where the US economy turns down and bad news there begins to make headlines. If that is so, it'll probably inaugurate a new era in which that swaggering American self-confidence will be punctured. What a pity, because there is something charming about the 'can-do' bravado the Americans teach us. A recent example is from the publicity for New York's Bronx Zoo, which boasts 'the largest African rain forest ever built'. A revealing turn of phrase. I'm not sure what the Creator would make of it.

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