10 things we learned at Brookings in April

Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants.

April has come and gone, and when Brookings experts weren’t busy filing their taxes they were producing research on some of the biggest issues in public policy. Here is a list of 10 things we learned from their reports, interactives, and podcasts in the previous month.

1. Possible applications for artificial intelligence (AI) span many sectors and are already impacting the world in significant ways.

A visitor fist bumps a humanoid robot at the booth of IBG at Hannover Messe, the trade fair in Hanover

Brookings President John Allen and Darrell West, the vice president and director of Governance Studies explore the extensive benefits of utilizing artificial intelligence in everything from law to smart cities. West and Allen weigh the regulations required to maximize AI’s value while protecting its human users and offer nine steps for maximizing AI’s benefits moving forward.

2. The severity of Venezuela’s refugee crises through photos and interviews on the border.

People cross the Colombian-Venezuelan border over the Simon Bolivar international bridge, in San Antonio del Tachira

Dany Bahar’s recent trip to the city of Cucuta, Colombia brought us images of life in between borders. During the crisis, a conservative estimate of 35,000 Venezuelans cross the border daily, with around 4,000 staying in Colombia and the rest living in transition around the region. The quest to find a permanent home and better opportunities is documented by his photos and personal interactions with the refugees.

3. Regional inequality of wealth in the U.S can be attributed in part to the struggle of older industrial cities.

c/o Alex Bigsbey

In a new report, Alan Berube and Cecile Murray analyze the uneven growth between technology hubs in America’s coastal areas and the older, historically manufacturing towns of the Midwest and Northeast. These “older industrial cities” have struggled to achieve job growth in emerging sectors, and this will  be problematic for their social, political, and economic well-being. Policies that expand economic opportunity, emphasize government and private collaboration, and embrace new industries have been most effective in revitalizing these “older cities.”

4. There are mounting risks to the global economic recovery.

Shipping containers

In their latest update to The Tracking Indexes for the Global Economic Recovery (TIGER), Karim Foda and Eswar Prasad find that the rate of economic recovery has remained strong but is susceptible to risk. According to the authors, there are a number of factors—including mounting public debt—that could derail growth in the absence of rooted reforms or if policymakers “count on momentum continuing without additional measures to increase their economies’ resilience.”

5. The U.S.- Cuba relationship is likely to become more strained.

The Wider Image: In the Sierra Maestra, Castro revolution lives on

When Miguel Díaz-Canel became president of Cuba earlier this month, the first non-Castro to hold the position since 1959, Senior Fellow Ted Piccone explained how our relationship with the communist nation could go from “bad to worse.”  According to Piccone, we can expect recent Trump administration appointees like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to echo the hardline policies that Trump campaigned on and for the president to continue reversing Obama’s normalization policies in an appeal to Cuban voters in Florida.

6. How medical marijuana can improve the lives of those suffering from epilepsy.


Brookings’s new documentary short, “The Life She Deserves” showcases the life of a young woman with debilitating epilepsy and her family’s fight to legally get her the only treatment that has worked: THCA oil. Senior Fellow John Hudak explains how current restrictive medical marijuana policy strains families and limits those needing the treatment from the freedoms they deserve.

7. Gender plays an important role in intergenerational mobility.

Randy Johnson, 17, a high school student, poses for a portrait between games of basketball outside a friend's residence in Ferguson, Missouri July 21, 2015. When asked how Michael Brown's death affected him, Johnson said, "I don't trust the law anymore. I could be next." When asked what changes he has seen in his community over the past year, Johnson said, "The police don't come around no more. They don't want an incident like that." On August 9, 2014 a white police officer shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown dead in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

In their recent analysis of intergenerational mobility, Richard Reeves, Katherine Guyot, and Scott Winship find “over half (54 percent) of black men born into households in the poorest fifth of the family income distribution end up, as individuals, in the poorest fifth of the earnings distribution for their respective gender, between the ages of 28 and 35.” Black women’s odds of escaping poverty, they note, are closer to those of white women but both groups “lag behind” the upward mobility of white men. Their study reflects similar results found by Raj Chetty’s team of researchers: an important step in breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty is changing the economic outcomes and earnings of black men.

8. The 10 year fiscal outlook is worse today than it was one year ago.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) is shown speaking on a monitor about tax cuts during a media briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2018.

In a new report from the Urban-Brookings Tax policy Center, Bill Gale, Aaron Krupkin, and  Alan Auerbach analyze how last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and 2018 spending bills have affected the medium-term federal budget outlook. Citing research from the Congressional Budget Office, they note that the debt-to-GDP ratio projection has climbed from 91.2 percent last June to 94.5 percent in 2027.

9. Construction does not constitute all growth in the housing market.

painted ladies victorian houses and san francisco skyline at background

According to Jenny Schuetz and Cecile Murray, the supply of available housing is not expanding enough to keep housing prices from rising faster than incomes, a growing cause for concern among analysts. Schuetz and Murray explain that while the strength of the housing market is often measured by the rate of new construction there are additional sources of growth, specifically: reconfiguring existing buildings, relocating mobile homes, restoring damaged structures, and converting non-residential structures.

10. What would a Trump doctrine in the Middle East look like?

U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas - RC19863CAF90

Shortly after a U.S.-backed coalition destroyed chemical weapons research, development, and storage facilities in Syria, Martin Indyk, the John C. Whitehead Distinguished Fellow in International Diplomacy, laid out what he believes to be a Trump doctrine for the Middle East. Analyzing Trump’s speech on why the United States attacked Syria in April 2018, Indyk points to several times in which Trump downplayed the expectations of America’s engagement in the region. He writes, “Trump has in effect now declared that in the Middle East he will, just like his archrival Obama, lead from behind.”

Hannah Daniel contributed to this post.