Human Capital Stock

by | Jun 6, 2020 | Lies

Our human capital stock is ready to get back to work, and so there are lots of reasons to believe that we can get going way faster than we have in previous crises,”—Kevin Hassett, Economic Adviser to President Trump.

Last week, Jordan Weissmann, writing for Slate stated:

The phrase “human capital stock” is a dry bit of academic jargon that economists have leaned on for decades, usually without generating a lot of controversy. It is trusty shorthand, used to describe the overall level of education and skills across a country’s workforce. But thanks to an awkward TV flub by White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett, the term unexpectedly became the subject of an online uproar this week, during which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed that it was “racialized” and had its “roots in slavery.”

Weissmann poo-pooed the notion that Hassett’s comments had any implicit sinister meaning and that Hassett had simply lapsed into economy wonk-speak, “Hassett was quickly and roundly mocked for accidentally describing Americans as a dehumanized mass of economic inputs, when he could have simply said that, you know, ‘people are ready to work.’ ”

The term, human capital stock, does not have its roots in chattel slavery, but Weissmann failed to consider the modern form of slavery—wage slavery.

human capital stock


“Every leap of civilization was built off the back of a disposable workforce. We lost our stomach for slaves unless engineered. But I can only make so many.” —Niander Wallace, Blade Runner 2049.

Wallace didn’t remember a basic capitalist premise from the not too distant past—that a deposable workforce is supposed to make itself.

Adam Smith defined human capital:

The acquired and useful abilities of all the inhabitants or members of the society. The acquisition of such talents, by the maintenance of the acquirer during his education, study, or apprenticeship, always costs a real expense, which is a capital fixed and realized, as it were, in his person. Those talents, as they make a part of his fortune, so do they likewise that of the society to which he belongs. The improved dexterity of a workman may be considered in the same light as a machine or instrument of trade which facilitates and abridges labor, and which, though it costs a certain expense, repays that expense with a profit.

A portion of AOC’s response to Weissmann’s article noted:

As [Theodore] Schultz wrote back in the day: “Laborers have become capitalists not from a diffusion of the ownership of corporation stocks, as folklore would have it, but from the acquisition of knowledge and skill that have economic value.” It’s an idea that asks us to believe that a Facebook engineer’s ability to write Python scripts is more or less the same thing as the stock that Mark Zuckerberg owns in the corporation. I think most people would find that self-evidently absurd (you can’t make money off of your coding skills without actually going to work), especially at a time of yawning inequality when we’re literally waiting for the world’s first trillionaire.

Smith placed the entire burden of acquiring the various talents and education to improve one’s market value upon the individual. We know how that turned out for millions of Americans saddled with student loans who attempted to increase the value of their personal stock by attending colleges like Trump University.

The unsung benefit of burgeoning student debt to rapacious corporations, is that those who owe their jobs to their education cannot easily quit. If, as Kofi Annan asserts, “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development,” those yolked to their jobs because they must pay their student debt are less likely to transform, less likely to be free.

Those who have fewer options and less power must cling to the jobs that they already have, subject to whims of their employer masters—slavery without the whip.

Then the pandemic comes along.

At least one in three can’t make their rent, millions more can’t afford groceries, and workers in supermarkets, medical clinics, warehouses, and other professions are now in a macabre race to see if they’ll turn blue and die before corporate employers decide to slash their salaries or retirement benefits — which has already happened to front-line caregivers in some cities. —”How the COVID-19 Bailout Gave Wall Street a No-Lose Casino”, by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Then Trump and Congress come to the rescue.

The $2.3 trillion CARES Act, the Donald Trump-led rescue package signed into law on March 27th, is a radical rethink of American capitalism. It retains all the cruelties of the free market for those who live and work in the real world, but turns the paper economy into a state protectorate, surrounded by a kind of Trumpian Money Wall that is designed to keep the investor class safe from fear of loss. —”How the COVID-19 Bailout Gave Wall Street a No-Lose Casino”, by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

You know what you are, Human Capital Stock, nothing more. Congress will invest in rich assholes’ stock, but not yours. Another example of socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.

You have to take your twelve hundred bucks and get back to work, despite the risks.

Now Trump has declared victory over the COVID-19 effect on the jobless rate.

Trump touted a better-than-expected jobs report, which showed unemployment at 13.3 in May after hitting a post-World War II high of 14.7 percent the previous month. Economists had predicted the jobless rate in May would rise as high as 19 percent as many states remained at least partially locked down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.— Sylvan Lane, The Hill

So the Human Capital stock has returned to work. That didn’t take much prodding, did it?

Watch this video from Professor Richard Wolff and ask yourself, wouldn’t you prefer be recognized as Comrade rather than human capital stock?



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