International development in 2018: What we learned in Brookings Global

By David Batcheck, Molli Ferrarello

As 2018 draws to a close, we have compiled a sampling of research and findings from Brookings scholars working in our Global Economy and Development Program over the past year. This list is not comprehensive, and we encourage you to catch up on all of the latest Global research here.

Tumultuous times, but poverty is falling and the middle class is expanding

Homi Kharas, Kristofer Hamel, and Martin Hofer updated the narrative about trends in global poverty. Drawing from their World Data Lab and World Poverty Clock projections, they first explain how extreme poverty is increasingly concentrated in Africa, with Nigeria overtaking India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor. Second, for the first time ever, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty: just over 50 percent of the world’s population, or some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered “middle class” or “rich.”

Furthermore, extreme poverty is increasingly concentrated in a set of countries that have achieved only limited development success in recent decades. In research from February 2018, Geoffrey Gertz and Homi Kharas identify 31 severely off track countries, and explain how they can get back on track and achieve SDG 1. In a separate piece published in September, Homi Kharas and Rebecca Winthrop explained that a quality education is one of the most effective solutions for getting these countries back on track.

Carol Graham wrote about how individual well-being research can help paint a clearer picture of what is happening to people within and across countries. Her work explores the paradox of economic growth and unhappiness in countries ranging from the U.S. to China to India.

Tensions in global trade

Eswar Prasad spoke with David Dollar in the first episode of the Brookings ‘Dollar and Sense’ podcast about U.S. and Chinese trade practices, bilateral trade balances, China’s economy and currency, and the U.S.-China trade war.

Joshua Meltzer explored how artificial intelligence (AI) stands to transform international trade by affecting the type and quality of economic growth. One way this is occurring is by accelerating the transition toward economies dominated by services.

As the Trump administration escalated its trade war, Geoffrey Gertz offered insight into USMCA, the new NAFTA, and Kemal Derviş and Caroline Conroy answered “What’s behind Trump’s trade war?

Climate change: “We’re almost out of time”

Timmons Roberts reflected on President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement by 2020, the impact of such a retreat for the U.S. and world, and what comes next.

After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) released its pivotal new report in October, Nate Hultman provided an analysis of the grim findings and noted that an alternative title for the IPCC report could be: “We’re almost out of time.”

Growing migration crises in Central and South America

As economic and humanitarian conditions in Venezuela have worsened, so has the refugee crisis, with 3 million Venezuelans having already fled the country. Dany Bahar and Douglas Barrios outlined the factors that could cause this number to reach 8.2 million, which would surpass the Syrian refugee crisis.

Sarah Bermeo explained why violence rather than economic opportunity is what is compelling Central Americans to flee—and how the U.S. should respond.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and co-authors described how young children who experience trauma—such as being separated from their family—can suffer from long-term effects socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

positive trends in girls’ education

The Center for Universal Education was proud to lead the research and design behind the Obama Foundation’s Global Girls Alliance, launched in October. Christina Kwauk explained why that marked a milestone moment in girls’ education.

Our current cohort of Echidna Global Scholars shared their stories from China, Pakistan, Peru, and Uganda and discussed research and policy recommendations to improve girls’ education in their countries.

Also this year, Izzy Boggild-Jones and Emily Gustafsson-Wright shared results from the world’s first development impact bond for education, which revealed enrollment among out-of-school girls in a rural part of India rose from 38 percent to 92 percent over three years.

Africa’s path to development

From China’s engagement in Africa to leveraging digital technologies to rethinking industries and mobilizing Africa’s resources, experts looked at a variety of ways to create opportunities for trade and economic prosperity on the continent as part of the Africa Growth Initiative’s annual Foresight Africa report.

Landry Signé and Witney Schneidman also explored opportunities for external investment and trade partnerships, including the potential for Korean-African collaboration and the Trump administration’s strategy toward the continent.

Brahima Sangafowa Coulibaly discussed Africa’s demographic boom, and the challenges and opportunities Africa’s youth present both for the continent and the world.

Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

Homi Kharas, John McArthur, and Krista Rasmussen found that, while most countries are making progress on most of the SDG targets, there needs to be much faster progress so as to leave no one behind.

Anthony Pipa explored the role of U.S. cities in advancing the global goals and with Ambassador Sarah Mendelson, explained how America’s urban areas can push ahead the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to unify communities, promote economic mobility, and create partnerships globally.

At this year’s Brookings Blum Roundtable, convened leaders discussed U.S. foreign assistance reform and “Invigorating U.S. leadership in global development.” A post-conference report summarized the findings from the multi-day event.

Can multilateralism survive?

With multilateralism under increasing strain, Kemal Derviş explained why it is critical that the U.S. re-engage with other nations and become a global-governance leader for the digital age.

John McArthur and Krista Rasmussen provided a snapshot of how all countries, plus the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have recently allocated funding across 53 distinct multilateral organizations. Anthony Pipa, Brina Seidel, and Caroline Conroy made the case for assessing the value of U.S. investments in the multilateral development system by conducting a comprehensive multilateral aid review.

In September, 10 years after the onset of the global financial crisis, Douglas Rediker retold how the global financial crisis unfolded, and how America’s involvement in the G-20, IMF, and other multilateral forums was instrumental in restoring confidence and financial stability.

looking ahead to 2019

Stay tuned in mid-January for Global’s 2019 prediction posts on Future Development, as well as the launch of Foresight Africa 2019, an in-depth look at six overarching themes that will shape the continent in the coming year.

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