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The door of number 10 Downing Street is seen in central London, Britain May 7, 2015. Picture taken with a fisheye lens. Britain goes to the polls today in a knife-edge national election to elect a new parliament and prime minsiter. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth - LR2EB570P3HYC
Brookings Now

10 things we learned at Brookings in June

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With June’s end, the year is halfway over (but it certainly seems longer!) and so now it’s time to reflect again on 10 things we’ve learned from Brookings scholars’ research over the past month.

1. Labor productivity growth has slowed over past half century, everywhere

Manager industrial engineer using tablet check and control automation robot arms machine in intelligent factory industrial on real time monitoring system software. Welding robotics and digital manufacturing operation. Industry 4.0 concept

Emily Moss, Ryan Nunn, and Jay Shambaugh examine “explanations for the slowdown in productivity growth as well as public policies that can help restore it.” “Growth in productivity,” the authors write, “has generally slowed over the past half century.” The slowdown of labor productivity is not just common in the U.S., but across all major advanced economies. “Improving living standards in the long run,” they note, “largely depends on improving labor productivity.”

2. China developing capabilities for military missions in Indian Ocean region

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) frigate Yi Yang transits the Gulf of Aden prior to conducting a bilateral counter-piracy exercise with the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill in the Gulf of Aden, September 17, 2012. The focus of the exercise was American and Chinese naval cooperation in detecting, boarding, and searching suspected pirated vessels. Picture taken September 17, 2012. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Chase/Handout

In his paper for the Global China Initiative, Joshua White writes that “although China’s ultimate aims in the Indian Ocean remain somewhat ambiguous, it is clear that the Chinese leadership is actively pursuing capabilities” to enable it to pursue military missions in the region. White argues that despite some skepticism about China’s capabilities, “there are indeed investments that could foreshadow China’s intention and capability to be able to operate high-end military missions of the kind that would be perceived as threatening to U.S. and Indian interests.”

3. A “playbook” approach to safely reopening the economy

Retail stores start to serve customers indoors as New York City enters phase 2 of reopening in New York on June 22, 2020. A woman doing window shopping at Zara women designer clothing store with huge Welcome Back sign on 1st day of reopening. Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that New York City is on track for Phase 2 after data shows numbers of new infections and hospitalization is down. (Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA)No Use UK. No Use Germany.

Mark Muro observes that “in the absence of a national roadmap” for reopening the economy following the initial coronavirus shutdowns, “governors, regional leaders, and business owners are scrambling” for guidance. While there has been a lot of consensus on the public health side of reopening guidance, on the business operations side there has not been much.  Thus, states, localities, and businesses are finding their own ways forward. Muro argues that “the best of the sub-national playbooks are highly reassuring, and represent the best of America’s knack for decentralized problem-solving.”

4. Juneteenth: A rallying cry for reparations

Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper poses for a portrait in front of a monument to the 1921 Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., June 18, 2020. Picture taken June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

“For many,” Rashawn Ray notes, “Black bondage has been continuously repacked with different wrapper like a company that has scandals and changes its name.” Although Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when enslaved Black Americans finally learned of their freedom, new forms of subjugation and wealth-denying policies followed slavery’s end. Ray argues that “as we celebrate Juneteenth, we have a lot or work to do as a nation to make up for Black plight since 1619.”

5. Civic education in 21st century schools is essential for the nation

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Rebecca Winthrop writes that “as one of the few social institutions present in virtually every community across America, schools can and should play an important role in catalyzing increased civic engagement.” Participation in civic life, she says, is essential for the survival of our nation. Winthrop argues that “uniting the powerful push for 21st-century skills with the less well-resourced but equally important movement for civic learning could prove to be an important strategy for helping schools.”

6. Government needs to define THE frontline worFORCE

April 25, 2020, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Kitchen staffs preparing meals for frontline workers at Pagu in Cambridge. Pagu is one of the first restaurant partners of Off Their Plate (OTP). OTP is a brainchild of Natalie Guo, Harvard Medical student, providing relief for two hard hit industries, Health care and restaurant industries. OTP, working with World Central Kitchen has expanded in 9 cities, working with more than 50 restaurants and 110 health care facilities across the nation and fundraised 3 million dollars since March. The organization pays restaurant $10 a meal to produce for frontline workers. The National Restaurant Association estimates that 3 million industry employees have already lost their jobs, and restaurants across USA will take a $225 billion sales hit through May . No Use China. No Use Taiwan. No Use Korea. No Use Japan.

Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane explain that “as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, America’s frontline workers are still valiantly reporting to their jobsites and risking their personal health,” but there is no agreement on who, exactly, they are. A formal definition is needed. Tomer and Kane argue that “creating formal definitions of frontline workers and the essential industries in which they work is an important, technical step to adopt policies that target the most vulnerable workers.”

7. Transatlantic cooperation on AI has significant opportunities

Calice Becker, a French master perfumer at Givaudan, interacts with 'Carto', an Artificial Intelligence powered tool, in Paris, France February 10, 2020. Picture taken February 10, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Joshua Meltzer, Cameron Kerry, and Alex Engler address “the significance of international cooperation as a vehicle for realizing the ambitious goals in the key areas of AI (artificial intelligence) innovation and regulation” described in a recent European Union white paper on artificial intelligence. In their paper, the authors outline the importance of transatlantic cooperation on AI and identify three broad areas for cooperation.

8. Despair’s role in the opioid crisis

A 41-year-old man found unconscious after overdosing on opioids in the driver's seat of a car, with the engine running and the transmission in drive, puts his hands over his head in the back of a Cataldo Ambulance at a gas station in the Boston suburb of Malden, Massachusetts, December 2, 2017. A used syringe was found in the car with the victim, who was revived with 10mg of naloxone. REUTERS/Brian Snyder SEARCH "SNYDER OPIOIDS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. - RC13F461C890

Carol Graham describes “the new metrics for understanding and addressing the role of despair in the opioid crisis.” Less-than-college-educated white people, in particular, are most vulnerable to deaths of despair, including from opioid overdose. But the federal policy approach has focused on saving addicts from overdosing by increasing the supply of “antagonist” medications, rather than also addressing the root causes, as well as supply and demand issues. In this paper, Graham examines the root causes of this ill-being, and argues that to be successful policy interventions “must help address the underlying causes of despair, such as lack of employment, sense of purpose, and hope for the future.”

9. COVID-19’s baby bust

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Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine explain how “the COVID-19 episode will likely lead to a large, lasting baby bust,” contrary to popular belief. Based on recent and historical data from economic downturns and the experience of the 1918 flu pandemic, people have fewer children in uncertain economic times. For example, these economists note that a one percentage point increase in unemployment reduces the birth rate by 1.4 percent. Kearney and Levine conclude that the COVID-19 crisis “is leading to tremendous economic loss, uncertainty, and insecurity. That is why birth rates will tumble.”

10. Fossil fuels are hard to quit

Fossil fuels still dominate global electricity generation.

In her new Foreign Policy essay, Samantha Gross explains that “We haven’t found a good substitute for oil, in terms of its availability and fitness for purpose.” One factor is that oil simply produces more energy per unit of weight, far more than batteries, solar, wind, and other sources. Gross explains the history of the development of fuel sources over the preceding centuries that have resulted in our dependence on fossil fuels. She recommends policies that will help electrify sectors most amenable to it.

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