The concept of ‘Inclusive Growth’ – a concern with the pace and pattern of growth – has become a new mantra in local economic development. Despite enthusiasm from some policy-makers, others argue it is a buzzword which is changing little. This paper summarizes and critiques this agenda. There are important unresolved issues with the concept of Inclusive Growth, which is conceptually fuzzy and operationally problematic, has only a limited evidence base, and reflects an overconfidence in local government’s ability to create or shape growth. Yet, while imperfect, an Inclusive Growth model is better than one which simply ignores distributional concerns.
Neil Lee (2019) Inclusive Growth in cities: a sympathetic critique, Regional
Studies, 53:3, 424-434, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2018.1476753
Neil Lee Associate Professor of Economic Geography at LSE
The interview transcript
Good morning Neil, it’s very nice for me to have you here.
Thank you very much for the invitation.
I’m having a Brazilian black coffee, which one are you having?
I’m having a sustainably sourced arabico, we’re not sure of the provenance but it’s very good.
I recently read a paper of yours on inclusive growth in cities, could you please tell me what the main idea of the paper was about?
So cities across the OECD have been launching inclusive growth strategies with the aim of first of all growing the economy, but doing so in a way which benefits disadvantaged residents or disadvantaged groups and this paper is a sympathetic critique of that agenda because I think it’s a really good idea this sort of you know the idea of sort of growing the economy in a way which benefits disadvantaged groups I’m very sympathetic for that but I think the way that the policies are currently being enacted is problematic so that’s why it’s a critique.
It sounds very interesting so which ones were the main arguments of the paper?
so what we what I do in the paper is I look at how inclusive growth is being operationalized in practice and one of the first problems we find is that it’s an extremely fuzzy concept you know with even within the same city or the same region that of policy makers often think they’re talking about very different concepts, so some people think inclusive growth is about environmental sustainability, some people think it’s purely about the labor market, some people think it’s about something else entirely, and this is problematic, so that’s my first sort of finding. My second finding is that the way that it’s operationalized at a local level is often quite problematic because the powers of local areas don’t align with what you might hope an inclusive growth strategy would consider, so we saw examples of everything from playgrounds to waste bins being included in inclusive growth strategies, these are important things but I think there’s a big question about whether they belong in an inclusive growth strategy.
This is indeed a very fascinating idea, so which ones were your main motivations in doing this paper?
so my motivation for writing this paper really is because I do a lot of work with policy makers and they were increasingly talking to me about inclusive growth and what could happen to try and make the you know try and make growth benefit disadvantaged groups and this was a big policy agenda it was mentioned in the UK and the budget the OECD had a research program focused on the idea of inclusive growth and inclusive growth really it became this sort of buzz word you sort of saw it everywhere and when I see a buzzword like inclusive growth even though I like the general idea, I think it’s important that it is critiqued and critiqued in a way which hopefully improves it for future use.
This is a very sound motivation I think, so what would you recommend to policy makers based on your findings?
So I’d have I guess several policy recommendations, the first is clarity of concept and some people think that this doesn’t matter that it’s because inclusive growth is politically acceptable, you know nobody can be against it but the problem is it’s becoming sort of a meaningless buzz word, which is just applied to economic development strategies regardless if they’re doing and whether they’re doing anything inclusive so my first recommendation would be that we need sort of stronger and more consistent metrics about inclusive growth so that we can hold policymakers to account. My second implication is that you know we need to we need to learn more about how exactly inclusive growth strategies are working on the ground there’s too little evaluation or certainly too little systematic evaluation of how policy is making or how we can do inclusive growth and I think that’s a real problem because there’s a danger at the moment that that the policy is outstripping the academic evidence in this area.
Neil I think this is a great paper thank you very much for clarifying it for us and I wish you all the best for your future research and hope to see you next time.
Thank you very much thank you.
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