Could Brain Capital Help in The Great Economic Reset?

Harris Eyre
8 min readNov 1, 2020

The Great Reset

A recent Psychiatric Times article used the disaster response framework to map society’s unfolding psychological response to the COVID-19 crisis [1]. Accordingly, there are four main stages of society’s reaction: 1) the heroic phase; 2) the honeymoon phase; 3) the disillusionment phase; and 4) the reconstruction phase [1]. As society progresses through these stages, resiliency and responsivity are needed, especially as society enters the reconstruction phase. The reconstruction phase holds vast potential to be a beacon of progress and accelerated global change. During the changes wrought by the reconstruction stage, there will be greater responsibility and recovery across all domains of life [1]. This stage will be marked by novel solutions and innovations that define the new normal. Indeed, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has dubbed the reconstruction phase as “The Great Reset”. According to Klaus Schwab, of WEF, “Now is the historical moment to shape the system for the post-corona era…the pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine and reset our world” [2]. He further argues that none of this reset will be possible without “a strong economy and cohesive society” [2].

Brain health amid COVID

We concur and further suggest that brain health will underpin all progress and is foundational for “a strong economy and cohesive society”. Brain health is an often overlooked, yet critical consideration in a systems approach to boosting economic resilience. Broadly, brain health encompasses cognitive, emotional and behavioral assets across the lifespan. The absence of brain health greatly increases the risk of disorders across the lifespan in these domains (e.g. depression, anxiety, substance misuse, dementias and neurocognitive disorders). Brain health disorders account for greater than USD $3 trillion of lost productivity every year [3], and the Economist has consequently rated investment in mental health as an economic best buy [4]. Brain health disorders touch everyone globally, directly or indirectly. In the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been significant increases in issues such as depression, anxiety, social isolation and cognitive decline [5–8]. The outbreak of COVID-19 has been likened to an earthquake, making mental illness the storm surge that comes in its wake [1]. The world is thus on the likely brink of a “mental health tsunami” [1]. A recent study from the Well Being Trust estimates that the mass unemployment, social isolation, depression, and anxiety impacts of COVID-19 will drive large increases in suicides and drug overdoses [9]. It is likely that morbidity from despair may rival that directly due to the virus itself [9]. Indeed, automation will further promote un- and underemployment. A novel approach is needed for economic reengineering which values brain health. This is vital to future human prosperity and flourishing and is the fibers of hope for “The Great Reset”.

The Brain Economy and Brain Skills

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, and where entrepreneurship connects innovation with the economy. With increased technical sophistication, our Brain Economy increasingly places a premium on cerebral, brain-based skills that make us human, such as creativity, compassion, altruism, systems thinking, collective intelligence, entrepreneurship, cognitive flexibility, self-control and emotional intelligence [10]. It is timely to affirm the primacy of human capital — people — in the 21st century workplace and at both ends of the economy — production and consumption.

Introducing Brain Capital

Brain Capital was first articulated in 2011 by the Canadian-led Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health [11]. Its core aim is to help innovation thrive in a Brain Economy by optimizing employee brain health. The Brain Capital model encourages employers to cultivate the emotional and cognitive capacity of their employees by optimizing employee brain health and Brain Skills [11, 12]. Brain Capital emphasizes an international partnership of business and science to develop actionable brain health optimization [11]. Brain Capital was originally conceptualized to break down siloes between academia and the business sector. It recognizes the reductionistic approach to mental illness has largely failed, and that the brain is an embodied organ within biological, social, ecological and economic contexts. The brain is best understood by transdisciplinary thinking which seeks to integrate perspectives from genes, environment, culture, brain, body, mind and economics [13].

Updating Brain Capital

We wish to update the existing Brain Capital model to incorporate insights from human, mental, psychological, social, and cognitive capital and neuroscience-based policy [14–18].

Figure 1: Core components of the updated Brain Capital model

Under our broader formulation, Brain Capital consists of the Brain Skills, knowledge, and optimal brain health that people accumulate throughout their lives, enabling them to realize their potential as productive members of society (see Figure 1). Brain Capital goes beyond reducing and treating mental illness and embraces the development of creativity, positive psychology, and innovation to create a better world. Further, Brain Capital integrates neuroscience-based findings and advancements across the lifespan (from infant development to older age) into scientific evidence based public policy, providing the opportunity for a cross-governmental approach to improve Brain Capital [14, 19]. Table 1 provides examples of Brain Capital in action.

Table 1: Examples of Brain Capital in Action

Healthy Brains Global Initiative (HBGI)

HBGI is a collaboration of global leaders in neuroscience, policy, and finance who are developing a $10 billion umbrella set of financing mechanisms to fund increased delivery of brain science breakthroughs and evidence-based interventions [20]. One Mind and the National Academy of Medicine are leading the HBGI in collaboration with the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the US National Institutes of Health, as well as leading investment banks, grant-making organizations, and research organizations.

The Weill Neurohub

The Weill Neurohub is $106 million initiative developing new treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases using a multidisciplinary approach that embraces “non-traditional” fields [21]. The Weill Neurohub is a collaboration among UC Berkeley, UCSF, and University of Washington. The Weill Neurohub also recently created a new public-private partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) and will be able to draw on the expertise and resources of the DOE’s 17 National Laboratories. The Weill Neurohub will build bridges between disciplines and integrate neuroscience and clinical medicine with the latest advancements in technology such as supercomputers, electronic brain-computer interfaces, nanotechnology, robotics, brain imaging tools, and more [22].

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Digital Hub for Mental Health

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Digital Hub for Mental Health is a digital platform serving as the administrative hub for APEC mental health initiatives to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing across the Asia-Pacific region in support of sustainable economic growth [23]. The Digital Hub seeks to address obstacles to early intervention, care, and recovery from mental disorders through the identification and implementation of evidence and practice-based models in multi-stakeholder collaboration and public-private partnerships. Leveraging its unique collaborations, partnerships, and platform approach, the Digital Hub will help develop mental health in support of sustainable economic growth and meet the needs of individual economies.

The BrainHealth Project™

The BrainHealth Project™ is a landmark scientific study that seeks to redefine our understanding of brain health and our lifelong ability to impact its fitness [24]. Led by the Center for BrainHealth, a cognitive neuroscience research and translational science institute of The University of Texas at Dallas, BrainHealth researchers and clinicians focus on discovering and translating scientific breakthroughs about the brain’s capacity and potential to get stronger, work more efficiently and last longer. The Project is a large-scale scientific collaboration of scientists, educators, and business leaders. It aims to achieve for brain health what has been accomplished for heart health — where every person knows steps to take to keep their brain working longer and stronger.

Brain Capital and The Great Reset

Brain Capital should be at the heart of “The Great Reset” and will enable a long-term global whole of systems approach to boosting economic and societal resilience which should promote brain health and brain skills. Currently concepts and measures of economics neither account for the neuroscientific drivers of productivity, nor the increasingly cerebral workforce demands of the 21st century. Brain Capital should be supported in all levels of policy-making and multi-sector partnerships for innovation to ensure impact on human functionality and productivity. We recommend further intensive thought on the manifold ways to build Brain Capital into our economic thinking.

Authors

By Erin Smith, Diab Ali, Michael Berk and Harris Eyre

References

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