RAND Commentary Highlights of 2021


Dec 21, 2021

The paradox of 2021 was that even as COVID-19 dragged on, bringing a certain limiting sameness to many daily lives, the events of the year felt unprecedented. Vaccine rollouts, an attack on the U.S. Capitol, massive ransomware attacks, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, record numbers of job openings and people quitting, and more.

RAND researchers weighed in on all these topics and more. Below are 10 of those commentaries presented chronologically that landed in prominent news outlets.

The Battle of Capitol Hill

By Brian Michael Jenkins

Published January 9, 2021 in The Hill

What happened in Washington Wednesday—a mob assault on the Capitol while electoral votes were being officially accepted—was a predictable possibility. Democracy held, but security failed, spectacularly. We need to be better prepared for future acts of political violence. This will not end on Inauguration Day.

Biden's Proposed New Health Agency Would Emphasize Innovation. Here's How It Might Work

By Luke Muggy, Catherine C. Cohen, and Kristie L. Gore

Published May 24, 2021 in the Los Angeles Times

With so many potential research avenues to pursue, ARPA-H could benefit from a clear strategic vision and method for identifying projects that hold the most promise for achieving that vision. Its portfolio of research activities could be developed through a process similar to that used by DARPA, which depends on approximately 100 program managers to develop proposals and to select highly innovative projects for funding.

Can the U.S. Avoid Getting Trapped in a War Over Taiwan?

By Michael Mazarr and Patrick Porter

Published June 11, 2021 in the Australian Financial Review

China's rising power and threats of war are creating a growing risk for Taiwan. Imagine, for a moment, what happens if China chose to invade. With missiles flying and People's Liberation Army landing craft on their way, the United States would be trapped between two equally unpalatable options: fight alongside Taiwan or abandon it. Even in the build-up to war, as warnings flooded into Washington, a U.S. president would have basically the same choices: threaten to go to war or stay silent, and desert Taiwan.

We Studied COVID-19 Cases After Birthdays. Family Gatherings Can Still Be Dangerous.

By Christopher Whaley and Dr. Anupam B. Jena

Published June 21, 2021 in USA Today

Exactly how risky is it to gather with a small group of others whom you know? In our new study, we looked at whether COVID-19 rates increase in households in which a member recently had a birthday…We found that in counties in the top decile of COVID-19 prevalence—counties in which transmission of the disease was high—the likelihood of infection in a household increased by about 30% in the two weeks following a household birthday, compared with households in the same county that did not have a birthday.

How the U.S. Can Deter Ransomware Attacks

By Jonathan Welburn and Quentin E. Hodgson

Published August 8, 2021 in the Los Angeles Times

Just 10 years ago, ransomware was the domain of mostly small-fry hackers encrypting files to squeeze a few hundred dollars out of random individuals. Today it's an urgent issue of national security…To rein in ransomware attacks, the United States needs to upend the risk-reward ratio for hackers—and for the countries that harbor or support them. Such a national deterrence strategy would make networks harder to breach, hit back harder against hackers, and claw back gains from those who succeed.

Afghanistan Was Lost Long Ago

By James Dobbins

Published August 30, 2021 in Foreign Affairs

The most strident critics of postconflict stabilization and reconstruction missions tend to focus on past failures, such as Vietnam and Iraq, without mentioning past success stories, including Germany, Japan, South Korea—and, more recently, Bosnia and Kosovo, where U.S.-led NATO interventions successfully ended the first armed conflicts in Europe since 1945. An important lesson emerges from considering the success of those relatively recent U.S. interventions alongside the failure in Afghanistan: the most critical decisionmaking and planning take place in the early stages—and if they are flawed, it will severely diminish the chances of success, no matter the time and resources Washington is ultimately willing to spend. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan was not doomed from the start—but the seeds of its eventual failure were planted as early as 2002.

Addressing Inequality to Build Back Better from Disasters

By Jay Balagna and Aaron Clark-Ginsberg

Published September 10, 2021 by CNN Opinion

'Building back better'—and faster—would help mitigate the effects of this cycle of disaster. President Joe Biden's campaign adopted the phrase as a slogan, but building back better has a 20+ year history that predates the current presidency. As described in the 2015 United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, building back better means focusing on recovery that not only restores damage from a disaster but also reduces future risk. To meet that goal today, we need to look at the ways our disaster preparedness and response systems actually create risk themselves, by reinforcing things like wealth inequality, systemic discrimination, or access to crucial services. The practice of building back better not only avoids these paths, it addresses them head on.

The U.S. Doesn't Need More Nuclear Weapons to Counter China's New Missile Silos

By Edward Geist

Published October 18, 2021 in The Washington Post

The discovery of what appear to be hundreds of new missile silos under construction in China has inspired arguments that imply the United States needs more nuclear weapons…But there's little reason for the United States to worry much about whatever the Chinese military is building in these silos—and plenty of alternatives to building more nuclear weapons for dealing with it. The current U.S. nuclear arsenal was designed to guarantee deterrence even in the case of surprises such as this one.

On Veterans Day, There Are Still Thousands of Homeless Vets in L.A. We Followed 26 to Find Out Why

By Sarah B. Hunter

Published November 11, 2021 in the Los Angeles Times

Only three of the 26 vets we followed obtained permanent housing during the next 12 months. Nine never made it indoors for more than two weeks. Fifteen got installed in temporary housing at some point, including five in hotel rooms through Project Roomkey, an emergency pandemic program…It was clear that VA outreach programs fell short. The men and women we recruited for our study all were within walking distance or a short bus ride of the VA in West L.A., but two-thirds were getting assistance from non-VA service providers or no help at all.

How to Explain This Weird Job Market

By Kathryn A. Edwards

Published December 14, 2021 in The Wall Street Journal

What 2021 revealed is that the pandemic had produced not one labor shock, but two. The first was felt immediately when 22 million jobs were shed and the national unemployment rate jumped to nearly 15%.

The second shock hit those who kept their positions: They arguably lost their prepandemic job and got a new, pandemic job in its place. This job had the same employer, same job title, likely the same salary, but it was a very different job.

—Robin Rauzi