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

GARNET WROTE: Aside from the terminology, what do you think of Human Capital theory as away to measure economic returns to education and training? Is there another way to measure these economic returns? What would that look like?


FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


Reply to Garnet: George Langelett, Human Capital: A Summary of the 20th Century Research (link to Itslearning)

Hi Garnet,

Thank you for your post. I find it very thought-provoking. I still believe though that HC theory offers a linear approach that does not have the necessary scope for dealing with much broader issues than just economic ones. Nevertheless, I understand that HC theory is based on economics, and I will consider its implications from that perspective. The questions you are asking are important, and I will consider them closely, as I also believe that, from a strictly economic perspective, Langelett’s article offers a way to address the questions you raised with regard to the financial/economic returns to education and training. To me it is a typical quantitative approach to measuring the several parameters that define a person’s and a country’s economic standards. As such, it does not necessarily measure issues of “quality,” which are difficult to quantify. Therefore if we assume that the laws of economics are accurate, then we can use them to try and measure returns to education by employing appropriate mathematic models. From what I read, it seems that such models have made it possible to calculate such returns with a certain degree of accuracy, due in part to the exclusion of qualitative variables.

How could such calculations be made more accurate? If we assume that the monetary evaluation of returns to education resulting from HC models were indicative of a successful investment, then it would be interesting to measure that index against qualitative parameters that were not initially included. Let me try with an example. If someone has a decent income, owns a house and a car (items that are quantitatively measurable), that person may be ranking high in returns to education, compared to someone with a lower income and no properties. However, would that person’s standards still be considered successful if we were to include the negative impact of issues that may be directly linked to that person professional situation, such as commuting time, unsatisfactory working environment, lack of access to cultural venues, low sense of community (suburban sprawl), and environmental issues (pollution, noise, etc). I believe that such inclusion would increase the accuracy of current HC measurements. Granted, it would require resources and time to carry out the relevant qualitative research. The results, however, may end up shifting the emphasis of HC equations towards currently disregarded aspects. Such shift could have a transformational impact on how education, work, income, well-being, health, self-actualization and more are ranked in our societies.


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