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The Myth of Human Capital

Nov 11th, 2017 | By | Category: Features, Lead Article

We offer a bit of poetry to illustrate a point.  American public policy assumes that a person’s lot in life is based on merit and human capital.  That perspective must also assume near perfect freedom of movement throughout the class and opportunity structure.  This is the American promise that merit will offer its deserved rewards. This American ideology has taken its place in both domestic policy and foreign policy. In the former, we have sought solutions to poverty and inequality through offering (at least promising) capital, human capital, to the downtrodden.  Human capital in this scenario is synonymous with education.  In foreign policy, we envision the American ideal as the zenith of human organization.  Consequently, our foreign policy is partly motivated by a desire to  to spread  neoliberal individualism and its hand maiden, a human capital solution to society’s ills all over the world–especially in lesser developed countries.  An alternative perspective sees such a simplification as folly and misguided and even an artifact of neoliberal hegemony.  The poem below was inspired by a speech that President Obama delivered to an international conference a few years ago.  He used other words, but his Longfellow said this:

We are the best,
Make no mistake.
No other can compare,
I fear they are just a fake.

The world is your oyster,
If you are up to snuff.
Come to the promised land
Even though it may be tough.

It’s all about human capital,
Leave the rest in place.
The model is good,
Only change it a trace.

We can change the world,
But must be discrete.
We will beat our chest,
But let no one know of our cheat.

Can we be fooled?
Should it be retooled?
I guess not says you,
When old wine in new bottles will do.

God bless America and
God bless you

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