George Langelett, Human Capital: A Summary of the 20th Century Research

COURSE: WORK AND LEARNING Assignmemt 1.2: (other readings)

FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


George Langelett, Human Capital: A Summary of the 20th Century Research (link titslearning).

As in many other articles, this one too presents Human Capital as a factor of production without discussing the repercussions on peoples’ personal development and their social role.

Human Capital definition:

“Human capital is the “know how” of the work force that increases the productivity of each worker.” (p. 1)


Throughout the article, the language of economics continues to be used to define issues that in my opinion would require a much broader approach. So, for example,

the article restates the assumption that “A more productive labor force leads to economic growth;” (p. 5) and “Human capital theory holds that education, whether formal or on-the-job, is an investment both for the individual and the society that devotes resources to providing it. Individuals decide on how much to invest based on their expected private return.” (p. 11) And also “Human capital depreciates over time, as does physical capital.” (p.12)

Garnet’s suggestion that “Human capital theory is not about individuals, it is about populations and their role in the economic prosperity of a nation” is supported in this article. Langelett talks about “nine ways in which education to individuals also contributes to economic growth fro the country.” (p. 19)

Again, in this article human capital is presented as an issue of sound investment that will eventually yield a higher income. The emphasis is therefore on investment and financial return in an economic context based on the premises of growth. (p. 18-19) As mentioned in other posts by some of us, the universal applicability of such linear progression is questionable.

Question on issues of cultural appropriateness. (reply to July’s post)

Julie wrote that Another example that I think highlights the lack of consideration of culture in human capital theory is that of the Aboriginal population.” Referring to Canada’s aboriginal population she wrote the socio-economic effects of being forced to ignore their culture and learn European values are deep and will be felt even for decades to come (i.e. low skills, high unemployment rates, poverty, sub-standard living conditions, etc.).  It is examples like these which give me trouble with the human capital theory.” I agree.

Above mentioned Langelett’s 9-way framework for economic advancement suggests that “education empowers people to move away from their traditional roles and take initiatives to create a better life. It removes society’s traditional prescriptions and individual ignorance and replaces them with more productive solutions.” I believe this approach is similar to what Julie criticized as assimilationist and colonial practices. In this statement, the equalization of traditional ways to backwardness and ignorance is undeniable. Given that, is it feasible to consider the merits of such an approach when the same develops from a narrative rooted in a Eurocentric perspective?

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