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The Brain Economy Playbook

Personal Perspective: Brain health is mission critical for a new economic model.

Key points

  • We propose that building an economic transition from the old playbook should be built off our brains.
  • Our proposed playbook comes at the time of a renaissance in brain science.
  • We believe our constellation of brain-building policy innovations creates a Brain Economy.

Written by Harris A. Eyre, M.D., Ph.D., William Hynes, D.Phil, and Pawel Swieboda.

Geralt/ Pixabay
Source: Geralt/ Pixabay

Christine Lagard, president of the European Central Bank, noted at the recent US Reserve Bank’s three-day symposium that there is "no playbook" for the changing and complex global economy. Inflation, the war in Ukraine, tighter labor markets, the transition to a greener economy, and the fragmentation of the economies into competing blocs were cited as convergent issues.

Consider, too, the looming structural challenges that are resulting from how AI is accelerating the knowledge-intensification of the global job market as well as the growing burden of mental and brain disorders.

My co-authors and I propose that building an economic transition from the old playbook to a new one should be built off our brains, placing significant value on the cognitive, emotional, and social brain resources of citizens and their communities. Our current model does not sufficiently value brain health. Society currently seek efficiencies that squeeze workers and erode their brain skills and brain health.

Our proposed playbook comes at the time of a renaissance in brain science. Capturing vast amounts of data from miniaturized sensors and low-cost genomics has never been easier. Gene editing affords potential new cures. Powerful algorithms are able to crunch complex data. This is all expected to rapidly accelerate our understanding of the brain, and how to drive brain health and performance.

Our brains are how citizens navigate complex systems, like those articulated by Lagarde and colleagues.

Policies and investments to boost brain power can increase productivity, stimulate greater creativity and economic dynamism, afford social cohesion, and create a more resilient, adaptable, and sustainability-engaged populace.

Previously, we have urged and guided the food industry to address the mental health crisis by transforming global food systems through public policy, reforming clinical care, and defending against misinformation.

A multitude of changes — a combination of education, regulation, and a code of conduct — were proposed under the "Neuroshield" framework to help us rewire our brains to separate AI-supported fiction from fact.

The green brain capital model delivered a set of policy approaches that place a central emphasis on the brain to deliver a healthy and sustainable environment. These focused on building brain skills such as green skills, creativity, adaptability, digital literacy, and ecological intelligence.

Most recently, we have articulated a brain technology-based industrial strategy that seeks to boost brain power while enriching the economy via strategic investments in research, development, and application of brain-related technologies.

Our Global Brain Capital Dashboard has been developed to allow us to track brain capital, integrating brain health and brain skills and their determinants, over time, to assess the impact of policy and investment decisions.

Here we wish to point out that these sector-specific brain-boosting approaches are helpful but need to be linked to a new economic playbook, the Brain Economy. This way they can be connected up in a similar fashion to how individual neurons create a healthy connectome.

Fortuitously, economist Bob Shiller noted the similarities between the brain and the economy. He said the brain and the economy are devices whose purpose is to solve fundamental information problems in coordinating the activities of individual units – the neurons, or individual people. He then observed that as we improve our understanding of the problems that any one of these devices solves – and how it overcomes obstacles in doing so – we learn something valuable about both. These points further reinforce the value of linking advances in brain science with advances in economics.

Of course, multinational corporations — from Big Tech to industrialized food —play a key role in all of the above endeavors. Therefore, a global governance architecture will be needed that meaningfully engages powerful private entities to offer protection for citizens and make this part of the future business models.

As our brain connectomes, or neural pathways, allow us to manage the complexity of model life, our economy must also be able to remain resilient in times of complexity. We believe our constellation of brain-building policy innovations which create a Brain Economy will allow humanity to move forward through the increasingly complex decades. We do have a new playbook, now we must work it.

About the Co-Authors

William Hynes, D.Phil., is the new approaches to economic challenges coordinator within the Office of the Chief Economist of the OECD. He also holds adjunct positions with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, University College London and the Santa Fe Institute.

Pawel Swieboda is a member of the steering committee of the Brain Capital Alliance and the Immediate Past CEO of EBRAINS, director-general of the EU Human Brain Project.

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