It's long been said that discrimination entails a waste of talent as able people are prevented from making full use of their skills. A new paper (pdf) tries to quantify this by looking at the effects of the decline in racial and gender discrimination in the US since the 60s. It says:
Changes in occupational barriers facing blacks and women can explain 15 to 20 percent of aggregate wage growth between 1960 and 2008. Furthermore, essentially all of the gain is driven by the movement of women into high-skilled occupations.
Discrimination, then, has significant macroeconomic effects.
This matters, not just because there (might?) still be discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, but because gender and racial discrimination isn't the only souce of a misallocation of talent. The authors say:
We suspect that barriers facing children from less affluent families and regions have worsened in the last few decades. If so, this could explain both the adverse trends in aggregate productivity and the fortunes of less-skilled Americans over the last decades.
And there are other forms of misallocation of talent, such as poor careers advice at school and university, and the systematically bad hiring practices that favour yes-men, the irrational or known mediocrities over unknown potential stars.
Perhaps, therefore, human resources policies have more significant macroeconomic effects than generally supposed.