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11 Global Debates

Celebrating 10 years of the Global Economy and Development program

In 2006, the Brookings Institution determined that a standalone research program was needed to have the depth and breadth to explore the most pressing issues facing an increasingly globalized world. Ten years later, as Brookings celebrates its centenary, the Global Economy and Development program has become a source of innovative thinking on how to improve global economic cooperation and fight global poverty and sources of social stress.

In celebration of this anniversary, these 11 essays below reflect the Global Economy and Development program’s most recent work and delve into the critical issues facing all those concerned about globalization.

Over the past several years, concerns that technology and globalization lead to ever greater inequality have reached fever pitch in the U.S. and beyond. To understand what’s behind this anxiety, three distinctions are useful.

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At no point in history have more children been enrolled in formal education. Thanks to global commitments and movements such as the Millennium Development Goals and Education For All, more than 90 percent of all primary-age children are now in school.

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After more than a decade of relatively strong economic progress, sub-Saharan Africa’s aggregate GDP growth is slowing as external shocks threaten recent advances. According to the International Monetary Fund’s April 2016 Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa, between 2000 and 2015, the continent grew at an average rate of 5.5 percent.

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For the better part of the past decade, close to 80 percent of countries in Latin America were ruled by center-left and populist governments. However, this hegemony seems to be coming to an end, with center-right parties recently rising to power in Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Peru. Should this come as a surprise? The short answer is no.

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Globalization—the integration among national economies of markets for goods, services, technology, capital flows, and, to some degree, labor—has played an enormous role in advancing global prosperity. Yet a backlash has emerged, manifested in the recent U.K. Brexit vote, strident “local first” demands, and calls to block trade agreements. The issues are not entirely new.

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Incomes in developed and developing countries have been converging, especially since the turn of the century, but the unevenness of that trajectory merits further examination. Beginning in the early the 2000s, the average per capita income of developing countries (adjusted for purchasing power parity) has increased substantially relative to the average per capita income of developed countries.

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Today, standard benchmarks of progress, productivity, job quality, and democracy are being upended. Income-based measures such as gross domestic product (GDP) served us well for decades, yet when GDP counts pollutant-generating economic activity on the positive side of the balance sheet, or when it fails to measure unpaid labor activity, it falls short. This is especially worrying given that we live in a world wracked by social inequities.

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Since 1945, the United States has led international efforts to expand trade and integrate markets, helping underpin U.S. as well as global growth. Yet 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is proposing policies that would turn the U.S. away from greater economic integration and likely provoke a trade war. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has backed away from supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement—a 12 nation trade deal signed by President Obama in February 2016.

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The Paris Agreement on climate change overcame the notion of a “horse race” between development and climate responsibility. At its core is a promise to keep global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and to “pursue efforts for 1.5 Celsius or lower.” The agreement forms the basis of new international, cooperative, long-term climate change action plans with a shared sense of direction and responsibility.

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Nine years ago the global urban population surpassed the world’s rural population, making it clear that the fate of cities will determine our future prosperity. As enshrined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, for cities to thrive, action is needed to ensure that urban areas and human settlements are “inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.” With the October 2016 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Housing and Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador set to agree on a new global urbanization agenda for the next two decades, the time to advocate for inclusive, accessible cities is now.

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The key question concerning the international monetary system is whether it can function in a manner that promotes global economic and financial stability rather than become a source of instability in itself or a channel through which such instability becomes more pervasive.

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