Building Forward: Investing in a resilient recovery

Wealth Economy Report says government must invest in social, natural and physical assets for pandemic recovery and to deliver on levelling-up.


The insight that a sustainable and resilient economy and society require investment in the whole range of assets that constitute true wealth is shared by more and more policymakers and business leaders. This shift is welcome but it is being accelerated by the fact that society is facing some profound challenges.

One is, of course, the pandemic and its impact on economies and societies. Another aspect of social fracture in many countries is its geography, and the need to ‘level up’ those places where people have had too few opportunities to get on in life. 

This need to focus on the ‘where’ as well as the what, why, and when also speaks to another underlying issue, concerning many governments before the pandemic: disappointing growth in productivity for at least the past decade. Economists regard productivity as a key indicator of long-term economic prosperity, closely related to increases over time in wages and living standards. 

There has been an immense amount of economic research on barriers to productivity growth but far less on how they relate to each other, as well as on the need to co-ordinate policies and decisions by business and individuals. Investment is needed in all of the components of wealth because they complement each other. The returns to any single element will be higher if they are treated as a portfolio. A key part of the Wealth Economy project is understanding those links: how do nature, health, and education interact to make people productive? What role does trust play in investment in conventional physical assets?

This report by the Wealth Economy team focuses on the practical, immediate policy lessons emerging from our approach. The pandemic, alongside mounting evidence of the consequences of climate and biodiversity crises, has opened many people’s eyes to the fact that this is a fork in the road. Building back is not the challenge; it is Building Forward to something better.

Without adequate buffer stocks, whether that is proximity to clean air and green space for all, or sufficient investment in skills that people can adapt, or communities where neighbours want to help others, there is no resilience.

Professor Diane Coyle

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  • About the author

    Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy

    Professor Coyle co-directs the Institute with Professor Kenny. She is heading research under the progress and productivity themes.   Learn more

    Diane Coyle 2018
  • About the author

    Dr Matthew Agarwala, Project Leader: The Wealth Economy

    Matthew Agarwala, Economist, Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Cambridge.   Learn more

    Matthew Agarwala
  • About the author

    Dr Saite Lu, Affiliated Researcher

    Dr Saite Lu is a Senior Teaching Associate in Development Economics at the Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge and an Affiliated Researcher at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. He is also a Global Future Council Fellow on the New Agenda for Fiscal and ...   Learn more

    Saite Lu
  • About the author

    Dimitri Zenghelis, Special Advisor: The Wealth Economy

    Dimitri Zenghelis is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute at the LSE where, from 2013-2017, he was Head of Climate Policy. In 2014 he was Acting Chief Economist for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (a.k.a The New Climate Economy). ...   Learn more

    Dimitri Zenghelis
  • About the author

    Julia Wdowin

    Julia Wdowin is a PhD student at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. She has previously worked with Professor Diane Coyle on the 'Well-being, progress and public policy' programme. Her research looked at how prosperity can be achieved with human, social and natural goods and how prosperity should be measured, beyond economic growth. Julia holds a BA and MA from the University of Cambridge and Warwick, respectively, and an Advanced Diploma in Economics from the University of Cambridge. She has also worked in economic development consulting for a year. Her research so far has focused on relating ethics to public policy, and empirical studies.

    Julia Wdowin
  • About the author

    Marco Felici

    Marco is a PhD student at the Department of Land Economy and his research focuses on household finance, housing and well-being. He was previously a Research Assistant at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy and a Research Analyst at the European Central Bank. He holds a Master's in Economics from the Barcelona GSE and a Bachelor's in International Economics from Bocconi University.

    Marco Felici