Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

‘Born in the corridors of the OECD’: the forgotten origins of the Club of Rome, transnational networks, and the 1970s in global history*

  • Matthias Schmelzer (a1)

This article re-examines a contested chapter in the international and environmental history of the 1970s. Even though largely neglected by historical research and in the public memory, the Club of Rome – widely remembered for its 1972 report The limits to growth – was not only born within the OECD, but was also in its early period strongly influenced by debates within this think tank of the industrialized countries. Using previously overlooked sources, this article analyses this highly unlikely OECD–Club of Rome nexus. It not only offers a privileged view into the social history of international policy-making and the related personal entanglements and ideological transfers at a key moment of post-war history. It also demonstrates that the social, intellectual, and economic turmoil of the late 1960s prompted a rethinking of the economic growth paradigm, even within those technocratic institutions that had aspired to guide the post-war industrial growth regime. The article argues that these links are not only vital for our understanding of the relationship between acquisitive growth capitalism and environmentalism, but also enable a more profound understanding of the role of transnational networks in global history and the appreciation of the place of the 1970s in world history.

Hide All

For helpful comments, suggestions and criticisms I wish to thank Christian Albrecht, Samuel Beroud, Iris Borowy, Ludovic Fulleringer, Matthieu Liemgruber, Mathias Mutz, Alexander Nützenadel, Dominique Pestre, Kim Priemel, Claudia Prinz, Laura Rischbieter, Elke Seefried, the editors of the Journal of Global History and various anonymous reviewers. The article has also benefited from discussions at several conferences, in particular the Winterschool Limits to Growth Revisited (Hannover 2012), the History of Recent Economics Conference (Cergy-Pontoise 2015) and the World Economic History Congress (Kyoto 2015).

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Ugo Bardi , The limits to growth revisited, New York: Springer, 2011

Matthias Schmelzer , ‘The crisis before the crisis: the “problems of Modern Society” and the OECD, 1968–74’, European Review of History, 19, 6, 2012, pp. 9991020

Elodie Vieille Blanchard , ‘Modelling the future: an overview of the “Limits to growth” debate’, Centaurus, 52, 2, 2010, pp. 91116

Matthias Schmelzer , The hegemony of growth: the OECD and the making of the economic growth paradigm, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016

Sverker Sörlin and Paul Warde , ‘The problem of the problem of environmental history: a re-reading of the field’, Environmental History, 12, 1, 2007, p. 124

Marie-Laure Djelic and Sigrid Quack , eds., Transnational communities: shaping global economic governance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010

Matthias Schmelzer , ‘“Expandiere oder stirb”: Wachstumsziele, die OECD und die Steigerungslogik wirtschaftlicher Expansion’, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 41, 3, 2015, pp. 355393

Thomas P. Hughes and Agatha C. Hughes , eds., Systems, experts, and computers: the systems approach in management and engineering, World War II and after, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000

Peter M. Haas , ‘Introduction: epistemic communities and international policy coordination’, International Organization, 46, 1, 1992, pp. 135

Jacob Darwin Hamblin , ‘Environmentalism for the Atlantic alliance: NATO’s experiment with the “challenges of modern society”’, Environmental History, 15, 1, 2010, pp. 5475

Michel Godet , ‘Future memories’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77, 9, 2010, p. 1458

Nils Gilman , ‘The New International Economic Order: a reintroduction’, Humanity Journal, 6, 1, 2015, pp. 116

Daniel R. Maul , Human rights, development and decolonization: the International Labour Organization, 1940–70, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012

Rodney Bruce Hall and Thomas J. Biersteker , eds. The emergence of private authority in global governance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002

Charles S. Maier , ‘Consigning the twentieth century to history: alternative narratives for the modern era’, American Historical Review, 105, 3, 2000, pp. 807831

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Global History
  • ISSN: 1740-0228
  • EISSN: 1740-0236
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-global-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 17
Total number of PDF views: 128 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 659 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 8th February 2017 - 17th August 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.