Global economy and development in 2021: What we learned in Brookings Global


The past year, we have witnessed widening economic and social disparities and inequities and increasing concentration of poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Brookings experts within the Global Economy and Development program continued to identify opportunities to ensure a more equitable future for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Building on Global’s mission to offer innovative and tangible policy solutions for local, national, and global policymakers, we reflect on some of the past year’s research and convenings. They include strengthening the global financial safety net, promoting good quality jobs in the face of the “Great Resignation,” assessing the future of multilateralism and global governance, reversing COVID-19’s impact on extreme poverty, inspiring the next generation of women leaders, addressing America’s crisis of despair, transforming and improving education systems, harnessing technology for inclusive growth, developing climate policy for sustainable development, and more.

This list is not comprehensive, and we encourage you to catch up on all the latest Global research here and stay on top of the cutting-edge work from our Africa Growth Initiative, Center for Sustainable Development, and Center for Universal Education.

Assessing and ensuring a resilient post-COVID-19 recovery

Harnessing technology for inclusive growth and development

  • The Future of Money. Eswar Prasad examined how financial changes like the end of cash and the rise of cryptocurrencies are transforming economies in ways both good and bad.
  • Strengthening international cooperation on AI. With the prospect of an estimated boost of 16 percent—or $13 trillion in U.S. currency—to global output by 2030, countries have engaged in an unprecedented push to promote artificial intelligence (AI) uptake across industry, consumer markets, and government services. Joshua Meltzer and co-authors outlined the international cooperation that has resulted and areas where more cooperation may be beneficial.

Promoting good quality jobs

Supporting inclusive and sustainable development

  • Long-run impacts of COVID-19 on extreme poverty. Global poverty had been declining before COVID-19, but the pandemic interrupted this progress. Homi Kharas and Meagan Dooley provided updated poverty estimates for 2030 and identified ways to reverse the trends.
  • Making USAID a premier development agency. George Ingram outlined the steps needed to elevate the U.S. contribution to global development.
  • Inspiring the next generation of women leaders. To celebrate International Women’s Day, Aloysius Uche Ordu asked eminent women to reflect on the challenges facing young women and to share their thoughts on how we can more effectively encourage and empower young women to become leaders.
  • Getting the world unstuck on the sustainable development goals. From poverty to climate change, the world appears to be stuck on how to address the biggest issues of our time. On the “17 Rooms podcast” hosts John McArthur and Zia Khan spoke with thought leaders and practitioners as they work to drive progress on the 17 sustainable development goals established by the United Nations.
  • The “City Playbook for Advancing the SDGs” compiled a series of how-to briefs and case studies on advancing sustainable development and social progress locally. These short, digestible, and practical briefs are written by city government officials for other city officials, based on their direct experience.
  • The hacker, the tax haven, and what $200 million in offshore deposits can tell us about the fight against illicit wealth. “The offshore world doesn’t just enable the rich to reduce their tax bill, it amplifies inequality around the world.“ Matthew Collin used data from a leak at Cayman National Bank and Trust to start answering questions about who stores their money in tax havens and how that should alter approaches to fighting dirty money.

Building back better

Transforming and improving education systems

Developing climate policy and action for sustainable inclusive growth and development

  • Our last, best chance on climate. “If we do not take action now against climate change, the damage could be even greater and more lasting than the effects of the pandemic.” Amar Bhattacharya and Nicholas Stern outlined policies to accelerate the transition to net-zero emissions and climate-resilient growth.
  • The key to global climate success. Prospects for achieving a carbon-neutral world by 2050 are improving, Kemal Derviş and Sebastian Strauss explained, but it is becoming increasingly clear that emerging markets and developing economies could be the difference between limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and significantly exceeding this threshold.
  • Enlightened climate policy for Africa. Africa bears the least responsibility for the world’s climate crisis but faces its most severe consequences. With this in mind, Aloysius Uche Ordu, Arunma Oteh, and Jeanine Mabunda Lioko proposed a four-point agenda to power the continent’s economic growth while preventing the worst consequences of climate change.

Renewing multilateralism and international cooperation

  • Global governance after COVID-19. Kemal Derviş and Sebastian Strauss shared the results of a new survey exploring attitudes toward multilateralism—and found reason for hope for a renewed multilateral system.
  • Developing a roadmap for USMCA success. A little over a year into the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), its members must focus on to achieve a more competitive, sustainable, and inclusive North American economy.

Stay connected and subscribe to Global’s newsletters: