25 Aug 2023
  • Website Development

Navigating the Trilemma of Growth, Inclusion, Sustainability

Start Reading
By Tyrone Showers
Co-Founder Taliferro


While the McKinsey report posits an optimistic vision of equitable economic empowerment and environmental sustainability, it tends to understate the conflicts between these ostensibly interlinked objectives. In contradistinction to their narrative, this article examines the inherent tensions between the trilemma of growth, inclusion, and sustainability. In doing so, it accentuates the opportunity costs, fiscal constraints, and policy trade-offs that make the conjoint attainment of these objectives an arduous undertaking.


McKinsey's report elucidates the complex dynamics between growth, inclusion, and sustainability with an exuberance that suggests a form of virtuous feedback loop among these vectors. Such an analysis, albeit uplifting, tends to obfuscate the inherent frictions that may arise when attempting to simultaneously optimize for economic growth, societal inclusion, and ecological responsibility.

Economic Empowerment vs. Sustainability: A Zero-Sum Game?

The salient point made in McKinsey's exposition is that economic empowerment has repercussions on consumption, which in turn aggravates the world's carbon footprint. As billions strive towards higher living standards, increased demand for energy and consumption-based goods will inevitably intensify the challenges of transitioning to a net-zero carbon economy. The notion that economic empowerment and sustainability can co-exist without considerable sacrifice to either domain reflects an analytical over-simplification. For instance, the clamor for renewable energy solutions can lead to an upsurge in resource extraction activities, which may dispossess marginalized communities of their land and livelihoods. Such contradictions manifest the zero-sum nature of these goals.

Fiduciary Constraints and Policy Dilemmas

McKinsey's research boldly assumes an unfettered willingness on the part of nations to commit vast proportions of their GDP towards the confluence of these ambitions. However, such optimism disregards the imperatives of national budgets and the necessity to balance social and economic prerogatives against available fiscal reserves. A scenario where countries earmark 8 percent of their global GDP annually for these dual objectives neglects the trade-offs countries may have to make in sectors like healthcare, education, or national security.

Uncertainties and Opportunity Costs

The argument posited by McKinsey bypasses an acknowledgment of opportunity costs. In allocating substantial resources to sustainability, nations may find themselves unable to invest in burgeoning technologies, human capital development, or infrastructure—factors integral for economic growth and the empowerment of disenfranchised populations. The calculus becomes even more problematic when factoring in the disparate levels of economic development among nations. For developing countries, the choice between immediate empowerment and long-term sustainability is not a matter of strategy but existential urgency.

Private Sector Involvement: A Panacea?

While it is accurate that the private sector could contribute to closing the identified gaps, McKinsey’s portrayal of market forces as an adequate mechanism to effectuate such extensive societal transformation seems overly sanguine. The assumption that market-driven innovation and business activities could unilaterally enact changes of this magnitude minimizes the necessity for regulatory guidance, public investment, and international cooperation.


The McKinsey report offers a laudable framework for integrating the disparate objectives of economic growth, social inclusion, and sustainability. However, by glossing over the inherent conflicts and policy dilemmas, the report risks propagating a narrative of facile synergies between these objectives. A more nuanced approach should accommodate the complexities and trade-offs inherent in attempting to actualize such a comprehensive agenda. Societies will have to make difficult choices, prioritize conflicting objectives, and accept the inherent limitations of their collective aspirations.

In this intricate dance of economics and ethics, we need to be aware of not just the steps we take but the toes we might step on. The McKinsey narrative offers an idealistic choreography, but the actual performance will necessitate much more nuanced maneuvering.

Tyrone Showers