The Illusion of Inclusion: America’s Economic Impediment
The Illusion of Inclusion: America’s Economic Impediment
By Mike Green
Dec. 4, 2013
America has a black president. That’s certainly a step toward inclusion, right?
Today, one of the most recognizable names in the nation is Oprah, who stands among a handful of women in the network of America’s wealthiest elite. Power couples like Jay-Z and Beyonce, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, have influence beyond their race. Wealthy black celebrities are abundant in both entertainment and sports.
Even in the technology space, John Thompson excelled and stood alone at the start of the 21st century as the sole black man at the helm of a major U.S. tech company (Symantec). Thompson ultimately grew the company into a global giant worth $6B before merging it with Veritas in a deal worth $11B. For a graduate of an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to achieve so much as a leader in the global tech space, and sit on the board of Microsoft, that would strongly suggest to many that there’s merit in the perception that we live in a post-racial society with significant (if not equal) opportunity for all.
The Civil Rights Movement appears to have unlocked the bolted doors of economic exclusion. Today, fame and fortune seems to be spreading across the multicultural fruited plains of America, accessible to those who get a solid education, work hard and follow the rules.
Or so it seems.
ILLUSION OF INCLUSION
The perception of economic inclusion, especially for those who a hostile nation targeted for many generations, is an impediment to upward mobility today.
When people in positions of power perceive the landscape as a level playing field, they tend to explain away the growing economic problems by categorically stereotyping people who remain disconnected from economic opportunity with broad brushes that dismiss the need for investment in inclusive economic frameworks, which were never created under the exclusive economic system of the 20th century. This important point cannot be overstated: America has failed to invest in establishing an educational and economic infrastructure that provides strong upward mobility and access to opportunity for its low-income citizens, and in particular talented entrepreneurs.
The lack of infrastructure and access to resources for those seeking to escape low-income environments have led to severe economic apartheid that is uniformly affecting both Black and Hispanic communities and the talented innovators within who strive to develop successful startup enterprises and become the job creators the nation desperately needs.
One of the underlying problems impeding positive change is widespread ignorance of America’s economic system alongside a pervasive acceptance that the nation’s economy is built upon a foundation of egalitarianism and meritocratic principles. Since the truth is all around us, why are so many of us, from the poorest to the wealthiest, so ignorant of how the economy works?
In a capitalist society, it seems unconscionable that our public education system, even our institutions of higher education, would graduate tens of millions of students who have no idea how the nation’s economic system works today, or how it evolved to its present state during the 20th century. Shouldn’t that be common knowledge within an education system that serves as a pipeline to productivity in a fast-paced, knowledge-based, tech-driven, globally competitive innovation economy?
Furthermore, it is troubling that most teachers, principals and school administrators don’t know, and therefore cannot teach students about today’s competitive innovation economy and equip them to successfully compete for economic opportunity in the 21st century.
But, the problem runs even deeper than the lack of economic knowledge across the education landscape. Most Americans, of all ages, backgrounds, race, creed and culture simply do not have a working knowledge of how America’s economic landscape is structured. And it is this existing structure of exclusive knowledge and networks that have benefited a tiny portion of the U.S. population while leaving the vast majority of Americans operating under the illusion of inclusion.
In order to address the serious economic problems our nation faces today, solutions must be derived from an understanding of the core problem: economic exclusion. If the problem is exclusion, it stands to reason that the solution is inclusion. So, what is the private sector doing to address this growing problem? What is the government doing? What collaborative efforts are being introduced? What investments are being made? What inclusive economic vision exists for a multicultural 21st century America?
Exclusion from knowledge, networks, access and opportunity creates a gap between the haves and have-nots. This has always been true throughout America’s history. Therefore, the movement toward INCLUSION is essential. But through the evolution of America’s economy in the 20th century — from Agrarian to Manufacturing to Innovation — the illusion of inclusion has served as the perception of reality for most of the nation. This illusion, which set in shortly after the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, has enabled the rocket-propelled Innovation Economy to exponentially expand the economic inequality across America in a very short period of time.
Here’s a short reality check on what economic inequality looks like today due to economic exclusion.
Some economist explain the extreme disparities shown in the video, “Wealth Inequality in America,” by pointing to the upward mobility quotient that suggests the data regarding the wealthy, middle-class and poor isn’t static. Instead, suggest some economists, there is a continual movement both up and down the income ladder, and that the chances of someone born poor in America and becoming wealthy within their lifetime is actually pretty good. Such a perception is yet another example of the illusion of inclusion.
Here’s the reality of the economic mobility rates in America, as presented by the foremost study of actual data collected on the potential for upward mobility in the United States: The Equality of Opportunity Project. Clicking on the link below will open a window to access an interactive map.
Another illusion is the notion that extreme income disparities is the natural outcome of winners and losers in a competitive capitalist society. But a cursory history lesson of the recent Civil Rights Movement and the following last decades of the 20th century reveals the fallacy of such an idea.
When minority racial populations are discriminated against via institutional and individual powers, the landscape of economic competitiveness is one exclusive to those privileged to gain access to it. The barriers to entry to such a field of competition are many. The U.S. investment class thrives on establishing and nurturing those barriers to entry, some of which are established by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In fact, “barriers to entry” is one of the common issues startup entrepreneurs must address to attract investment funds that fuel the growth of their company. And since 1980, startup companies have represented nearly all net new job growth in America, according to the Kauffman Foundation. Those successful private equity fueled enterprises over the past five decades present overwhelming evidence of a homogeneous landscape of investment capital fueling a mirror-image competitive innovation landscape.
INCLUSIVE VS EXCLUSIVE COMPETITIVENESS
A landscape of exclusive competitiveness isn’t the answer to America’s growing economic disparities and lack of strong revenues and job growth among minority enterprises. But perhaps investing in developing a landscape of Inclusive Competitiveness could bolster the nation’s overall economic competitiveness and produce more jobs.
Johnathan Holifield, Esq, is the architect and visionary of the Inclusive Competitiveness framework. He is the only person in America holding the position of Vice President of Inclusive Competitiveness, a seat he holds at NorTech, a technology based economic development powerhouse in Cleveland, covering 21 counties in northeast Ohio. A recent international report, funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust focused on the economic issue of Inclusive Competitiveness and Mr. Holifield. See the full report here or below (particularly pgs 43, 56 and 97).
Today, I’m working with my colleagues and co-founders of The America21 Project, Johnathan Holifield, Esq., and Chad Womack, PhD (National Director of STEM Education at UNCF), along with a team of supporters to produce the America21 ScaleUp Innovation Conference in Washington DC in the spring of 2014. This conference, as a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, will feature best practices, create new collaborations and showcase ready-to-scale enterprises across America that deserve investment. Through the lens of Innovation, inclusion and Impact, the conference will seek to discover better pathways through University R&D, Tech Transfer, Startup Enterprises, TBED/iBED initiatives, private equity investing and public-private partnerships that lead toward a 21st century America built upon an economic foundation of Inclusive Competitiveness.