All roads lead to the brain. Depression and anxiety, loneliness, Alzheimer’s disease, learning disabilities, substance abuse disorders, long-term COVID (ie “brain fog”) , the toxic effects of air pollution on the brain, and even death from desperation are all brain challenges. . These problems generally fall through the cracks as they cut across all policy areas and sectors of government. We need a coordinated approach to manage and ultimately prevent these problems: such an approach will boost economic dynamism through reduced suffering, improved brain performance and productivity, and new industries.
Brain-related challenges all involve the health and well-being of the brain at the individual and societal levels. They all represent internal or external disturbances, whether biological, economic, structural, environmental or social. Collectively, they were reducing life expectancy in the United States, long before the SARS-COV-2 pandemic. The pandemic, in turn, has dramatically worsened all of these brain-related issues.
Brain function and the myriad of conditions that influence it are seldom taken into account in current economic or public policy approaches. This may be due in part to scientific advancements in brain science overtaking economic and political changes. It is also the result of siled and growing knowledge of the brain and the economy that rarely converge to inform policy making and implementation.
Our collective failure to link neuroscience and social policy is perhaps more glaring in the area of social justice. The increasing homelessness, mass incarceration and deaths from desperation are all due, in part, to untreated brain disorders. With the growing threat of automation, workers who are not “brain ready” for the knowledge economy will face job losses, loss of purpose, desperation and further backwardness. In addition, more than a dozen institutions within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) engage in brain research, resulting in imperfect coordination, artificial silos, wasted resources, and redundancy. This is particularly troubling given that many of the basic mechanisms of brain disease are common to many disorders, and that dysfunction of mood and cognition are common among brain problems throughout life.
A new approach to improving economies and societies is long overdue. To that end, we have developed a new asset, Brain Capital, which we believe can inform better policy making. Brain Capital integrates brain health and skills and promotes economic empowerment, social resilience, and emotional connection. As brains are indispensable engines of human progress, Brain Capital provides an opportunity to invest in these valuable assets and nurture healthier, more resilient and more flexible brains. And yet, remarkably, Brain Capital is not captured by any existing measure of gross domestic product (GDP).
Download the full guidance note