This morning, the Associated Press released a much-discussed analysis estimating that the state stands to lose at least $3.76 billion over the next dozen years on account of HB 2
. The real number, the AP reported, was likely much higher:
Still, AP's tally is likely an underestimation of the law's true costs. The count includes only data obtained from businesses and state or local officials regarding projects that canceled or relocated because of HB2. A business project was counted only if AP determined through public records or interviews that HB2 was why it pulled out.
Even as a conservative estimate, $3.76 billion is a lot of money—roughly the state’s annual contribution to Medicaid
, for example. But let’s assume the AP undercounted by a lot. Let’s say the real number is something like $5 billion over the next ten years, or $500 million per year, compared to about $313 million a year under the AP’s estimate.
To the larger state economy, that’s almost nothing. The state’s GDP is more than $500 billion
, so a $500 million annual loss is about one-tenth of 1 percent of that. That’s an ant bite, not a collapsed lung. What’s more, the state and its economy—especially in its urban areas—are growing at a steady clip, more than enough to absorb the hit.
In other words isn’t going to bludgeon HB 2’s backers into seeing the light.
Exhibit A: Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who goes overboard on the FAKE NEWS!!! stuff but gets the underlying point correct.
“The recent economic forecast reported by the Associated Press has no basis in fact and is another attempt to mislead and confuse the public through a bogus headline. The AP's figures are based off one person's guess over a 12 year period. Over this same time period, according to all economic forecasts, our state will have a GDP of over $6 trillion. If even using the AP's numbers as fact, the total ‘loss’ would equate to 0.06%, meaning on overall impact of approximately one half of 1/10 of one 1%. And the percentage of GDP loss would only be that high if we had no more economic growth from now until 2029, which is absurd to say the least.”
Exhibit B: the predictable-as-sunrise NC Values Coalition, which issued a press release along those same lines.
“All indicators point to the state’s economy as one of the healthiest and one of the most business-friendly states in the nation. … The AP’s 12-year estimate equates to tiny fraction of North Carolina's estimated GDP of 6.8 trillion over the next 12 years and fails to account for events and businesses that will choose the State because of our privacy protections.”
They’re not wrong. It just doesn’t matter. This entire debate—whether HB 2 has cost North Carolina $1 or $1 trillion—is beside the point. When we reduce civil rights to a question of the quantification of economic impacts, we’re making the wrong argument.
The AP’s estimate is important. It’s news, definitely. But it isn’t going to convince Dan Forest or Tim Moore or Phil Berger that they’re wrong. Even the monumental embarrassment of the NCAA and ACC pulling events has only led them toward a repeal in name only, an effort to appease the basketball gods but do little else, the most recent iteration of which includes a likely unconstitutional conscience clause
that would offer bigots a license to discriminate.
But what the talk of boycotts and the canceled projects and the NCAA’s and ACC’s decisions to pull championships from the state have done—and how they’ve been effective—is they’ve focused a spotlight on the ignominy and immorality of the legislature’s bigotry and intolerance.
If we‘re to win this fight—and I believe that, in time, we will—those are the grounds on which we must wage war: not that discriminating against LGBTQ citizens costs us too much money, but that discriminating against LGBTQ citizens is morally reprehensible and an affront to our honor. We must commit ourselves to driving from power those who would use fear of marginalized and vulnerable populations for their own political gain.
If that brings back money, great, but it’s not why
we should do it.