Put the 'human' back into human capital

Thinking of human capital in income and productivity terms is reductive. We need a more holistic approach.

ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

As technological change disrupts entire industries and inequality threatens political stability, attention has shifted towards the question of how to upskill the labour force for higher productivity. But productivity is only one piece in the much larger puzzle of human capital.

Human capital is a deeply potent concept, one of those rare ideas so powerful that it becomes a force in its own right. Formally, the term was developed by the late Nobel laureate Gary Becker in his efforts to quantify the value of secondary education in America's post-World War II decades.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'Put the 'human' back into human capital'. Print Edition | Subscribe