- Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast with Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein.
- In the latest episode, they spoke with JP Julien, head of McKinsey & Company’s Institute for Black Economic Mobility.
- Julien says eliminating racial wealth disparities and unlocking women’s economic potential could add trillions to the US GDP.
Most Econ 101 classes teach that an economy is a zero sum game — that it’s impossible to win without some other economic actor losing at the same time, and that one group’s gains must result in another group’s losses. Not only is this trickle-down theory completely wrong, but it’s also dangerous: Nationalist leaders around the world have played on voters’ fears by threatening that the economic progress of immigrants and minorities under progressive leaders will result in losses for everyone else.
Those claims couldn’t be further from the truth. A growing body of evidence proves that inclusion and economic growth march hand in hand.
How inclusivity aids economic growth
On this week’s episode of “Pitchfork Economics,” JP Julien discusses a report that he co-wrote in his capacity as a leader of global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s Institute for Black Economic Mobility.
Julien says his paper, “The case for inclusive growth,” finds that economic “growth is actually at its best when it’s most inclusive.” When people from all races and backgrounds are “able to meaningfully engage and participate as workers, entrepreneurs, and consumers,” Julien explained, the economy “is stronger and more resilient.”
There’s already plenty of evidence for this in the American economy as it stands right now.
“We know that 40% of GDP growth between 1960 and 2010 can be almost directly tied to the greater participation of women and people of color in the labor force,” Julien explained. “The data speaks quite clearly that the more we get people to participate, the better outcomes we produce.”
Eliminating economic inequality could unlock trillions in annual GDP
The paper that Julien coauthored puts an eye-popping price tag on the economic discrimination against minorities and women in America. They found that “eliminating disparities in wealth between Black and white households and Hispanic and white households could result in the addition of $2 trillion to $3 trillion of incremental annual GDP to the US economy. Furthermore, unlocking women’s economic potential in the workforce over the coming years could add $2.1 trillion in GDP by 2025.”
It’s important to point out that the gains Julien is discussing are not zero-sum, winner-take-all numbers. Specifically, that 5 trillion dollars or so doesn’t come at the expense of the economic value of white men — it’s in addition to it. America’s economy is missing out on trillions of dollars of economic activity because whole populations of people have been systematically prohibited from fully participating as consumers, workers, and entrepreneurs.
Julien has been encouraged by the fact that over the past year “many Fortune 1000 companies are really leaning into the idea that being good corporate citizens actually creates opportunities.”
“We’ve done quite a bit of research on the benefits of more diverse boards and more diverse leadership teams,” Julien continued, “and they actually do financially outperform their peers.” The economic benefits of inclusion are becoming impossible to ignore, which is likely why “we’ve seen $66 billion from the Fortune 1000 in racial equity commitments between May and the end of last year.”
Why community participation is needed and ‘commitment’ isn’t enough
For centuries, our economy has been constructed around exclusionary policies, and simply making a commitment to inclusion isn’t enough to overcome those institutional barriers. Julien doesn’t believe this is a problem that can be overcome with a set of policies. He thinks it would be better for communities to “actually go through a focused process in which those that have been historically excluded are in the decision-making seat.”
It’s only by empowering excluded people to identify where they’ve been let down “and designing a set of strategies and investments that reflect both those needs and their strengths that we get to a set of outcomes that really work locally, because economic development is hyper-local,” Julien said. To tear down monolithic systems of inequity, it’s vital to begin by addressing the injustices in your own backyard.
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