From U.S. relations with China, Russia, Iran or Pakistan to issues like the debt ceiling, police violence, or the rise of U.S. industrial policy that can help blue and red places alike, there is no shortage of headline issues to keep track of in 2023. At the same time, there remains a plethora of challenges that will define our reality, yet may never make it onto your newsfeed. I asked some of our best and brightest about these issues – the topics not likely to be “breaking news” or brought up in this year’s State of the Union, but are worth monitoring closely. Their answers below are just a few topics Brookings scholars will be working on in the year ahead.
The web will feel new again.
Chris Meserole (@chrismeserole)
Director of Research – Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative
For the last fifteen years, how we create, share, and discover information online has largely stayed the same. We search the web on Google, we watch videos on YouTube, we connect on Facebook and Twitter. Although those services aren’t going anywhere, this year their look and feel will start to shift—and new applications will rise alongside them. For instance, the explosive growth of chatGPT, the new AI-assistant released by OpenAI, points toward a future where we simply ask for information rather than search the web. Likewise, the release of powerful new “generative AI” tools for audio, images, and video are poised to fill our social feeds with personalized, auto-generated digital content rather than user-created media. And as social media relies more on AI for recommended content, we’ll increasingly find new things to watch and read based on what algorithms present to us rather than what our friends have shared. While all this innovation is exciting for consumers, the policy environment will also need to keep pace. AI’s transformation of the web will add new complexity—and urgency—to a wide range of tech policy discussions, from data privacy to algorithmic transparency.
It’s not just what the House of Representatives does, it’s how it does it.
Molly Reynolds (@mollyereynolds)
Senior Fellow – Governance Studies
While many eyes are on the debt limit and avoiding a government shutdown, another big challenge for the year ahead will be how the House actually runs – or doesn’t. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy made a range of promises to holdouts in his party to secure the necessary support to win the gavel. But how many of those promises will matter? Past Speakers have promised to open up debate on the floor of the House, only to renege when the going got politically tough. How much power will the members of the McCarthy-skeptical faction actually try to exercise over what comes up for consideration? The potential for change in how the chamber operates is real, but we’ll need to pay careful attention to how things actually play out.
There is growing community awareness about what police are doing and who is holding them accountable. Less covered, however, are the collateral consequences left behind after police violence. This is a pressing and timely issue, as research documents that police violence harms the mental, physical, economic, and social health of entire communities. Following the brutal death of Tyre Nichols, five Memphis police officers were fired after “violating multiple department policies” and charged with murder. Other first responders have either been fired or removed from duty. This incident adds to a growing total of police killings following a decade high in 2022, thus adding to the growing trauma in communities. Though the Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness and shifted policy, more reform is needed at local, state, and federal levels. 2023 may be a year towards addressing police violence, which ought to include providing necessary resources to address the “illness spillovers of police violence” following these incidents. We have developed models and response teams to provide the mental health resources after school shootings. A similar community-level and holistic response is needed to structure healing justice and restorative practices for all community members, which includes those responsible for emergency responses and public safety. Comprehensive community health is the way we heal our plagued communities from the collateral consequences of violence.
Quality mental health treatment can save lives and livelihoods.
Carol Graham (@cgbrookings)
Interim Vice President and Director – Economic Studies
Director – USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy
For many people with mild to moderate mental illness, recent advances in the quality of mental health treatment can, evidence indicates, alleviate many of the functional consequences of those illnesses. Achieving this requires improving the match between clinical problems and treatments. For people with serious and persistent illnesses however, treatment can be much more difficult. Indeed, improving these individuals’ wellbeing (physical and mental) is often complicated by systemic socioeconomic factors, including rising housing costs, increased criminalization of disturbed behavior, and growing returns to cognitive and interpersonal skills in the labor market. Thus, solving the mental health crisis in the US will ultimately require a combination of health, economic, and social policies. Growing recognition of this issue will be essential to the national health conversation, especially as it pertains to mental health, and one likely to gain increased importance and attention in 2023. For our part at Brookings, we’ve constructed a nation-wide vulnerability index and are in the process of adapting it to include vulnerability to misinformation and radicalization, to which people in despair are particularly vulnerable. Related work is also bearing down on the implications of the increase of mental illness on labor force participation and productivity, and how that in turn is exacerbated by the new skills now required in the labor market. These are deeply interconnected – but also fairly “under-the-radar” – challenges, and all of them are likely to impact the many national debates that will play out in the year ahead.
Housing affordability—or lack thereof—is one of the most urgent issues facing American families. State and local governments across the country are exploring new policies to increase the production of moderately priced homes and create more diverse housing options. Policy levers to achieve these goals include zoning reforms that legalize duplexes, rowhouses, and apartments as well as procedural changes to make housing development simpler, shorter, and more transparent. The pro-housing movement has grown rapidly over the past several years, and is one of the few issues that attracts bipartisan support. In 2023, look for even more governors and state legislatures to lean into abundant housing, from states as diverse as New York, Virginia, Montana, and Utah.
Latinos will receive more attention as the nation gears up the 2024 election.
Tonantzin Carmona (@Tonantzin_LC)
David M. Rubenstein Fellow – Brookings Metro
In the aftermath of the 2022 midterms, there was a surge in media coverage on whether Latinos are migrating to the Republican Party. In reality, the results of the midterm elections were mixed and reflected historical trends. Even so, there remains a lack of understanding of Latinos by policymakers or the media, thus prompting more curiosity through the lens of issues that matter to Latinos—like the economy. Latinos usually hear about immigration issues from pundits and politicians, but, as in previous election cycles, the economy was their top concern during the 2022 midterms. According to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, the average white family has five times the wealth of the average Latino family, and Latinos are eager to close this gap. Expect to hear more about public policies that can promote wealth-building and economic opportunity in Latino communities in 2023. With more Latinos in Congress than ever before, it will also be worth examining what policies Latino representatives propose to address these issues.
Climate policy curves can help frame important policy decisions.
Glenn Rudebusch (@GlennRudebusch)
Nonresident Senior Fellow – Economic Studies
The extent of future climate change largely depends on policy choices made today. A new framing device, a climate policy curve, can help quantify the link between policy actions and subsequent climate outcomes. Climate policy curves (CPCs) are constructed using a model that can assess how varying efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions affect economic growth and global warming. CPCs incorporate both economic relationships and climate science and provide a useful tool for understanding what needs to be done to transition to a low-carbon economy. For example, they can quantify the climate-economic trade-off between current and future action. Limiting global temperatures can be achieved with strong climate action this year or by postponing even more significant action to the future, and CPCs can illuminate this generational burden-shifting in a straightforward way.
World leaders will debate the future of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2023.
John McArthur (@mcarthur)
Director – Center for Sustainable Development
This year, the world is approaching a new crossroads in how it tackles its biggest challenges of poverty, inequality, and environmental protection—within and across all countries. These are the issues embedded in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), agreed by all countries in 2015, focused on a 2030 deadline. The situation is so stark that the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General has recently started talking about the need to “rescue” the goals. In September, the UN will host a summit of world leaders focused on how to shift gears to do better during the “second half” (until the 2030 deadline) of the SDG era. Countless lives and livelihoods depend on finding better paths forward, as does the health of the planet itself. Fortunately, there have been many breakthrough success stories since 2015, including amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But over the coming months, the world faces a major challenge in forging new forms of bottom-up international cooperation that harness new technologies and new forms of leadership to chart a better way forward.