A Brain Capital Grand Strategy: toward economic reimagination

The time is now for a Brain Capital Grand Strategy

Current brain research, innovation, regulatory, and funding systems are artificially siloed, creating boundaries in our understanding of the brain based on constructs such as aging, mental health, and/or neurology, when these systems are all inextricably integral.

Grand strategy provides a broad framework that helps to guide all elements of a major, long-term project. There are converging global trends resulting from the COVID pandemic compelling a Brain Capital Grand Strategy: widespread appreciation of the rise in brain health issues (e.g., increase prevalence of mental illness and high rates of persons with age-related cognitive impairment contracting COVID), increased automation, job loss and underemployment, radical restructuring of health systems, rapid consumer adoption and acceptance of digital and remote solutions, and recognition of the need for economic reimagination. If we respond constructively to this crisis, the COVID pandemic could catalyze institutional change and a better social contract.

Our current economy is indeed a Brain Economy—one where most new jobs demand cognitive, emotional, and social, not manual, skills, and where innovation is a tangible “deliverable” of employee productivity. With increased automation, our global economy increasingly places a premium on cerebral, brain-based skills that make us human, such as self-control, emotional intelligence, creativity, compassion, altruism, systems thinking, collective intelligence, and cognitive flexibility [1]. Investments in brain health and brain skills are critical for post-COVID economic renewal, reimagination, and long-term economic resilience.

Broadly, brain health encompasses emotional, behavioral, and cognitive strengths across the life span. Compromised brain health greatly increases the risk of disorders across the life span (e.g., depression, anxiety, substance misuse, dementias, and neurocognitive disorders) and hinders the achievement of each individual’s full human potential. The concept of Brain Capital encompasses both brain health and brain skills as contributors to this Brain Economy. A Brain Capital Grand Strategy is urgently needed. Such a plan would be a first-ever strategic alignment across diverse public and private entities to structure and track investments that protect brain health and produce brain skills.

This paper discusses the parameters of this Grand Strategy including: a Brain Capital Investment Plan, examination of Brain Capital from an in-all-policies approach, and a Brain Capital Index. Underlying such efforts is the notion that Brain Capital can amplify existing recovery and growth efforts while helping to build long-term global economic capacity that promotes an equitable and sustainable brain health future. We recommend establishing an action taskforce comprised of local, state, federal, and global leaders in these key areas to further advance this work.