Kevin Hassett, one of President Donald Trump’s economic advisers, said last weekend that Americans are ready to get back to work, but his reference to “human capital stock” led Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to call the term “ugly” and to suggest that it is pro-slavery — although she has used the expression herself.
“Our capital stock hasn’t been destroyed. 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,” Hassett said Sunday on CNN.
“It seems like their pockets are only empty when we talk about education and human capital,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview on Now This News website in August 2018:
You can’t make this up. pic.twitter.com/uLZTMFrQ1P
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) May 28, 2020
But Ocasio-Cortez attacked Hassett for using the common term for economic discussions:
Human Capital Stock.
An ugly term w ugly history, but for many powerful ppl it‘s their most honest view of workers: human stock.
By their logic, the moment a person stops being useful to profit motive (retirement, health, etc) they are a liability. That’s the system we live in. https://t.co/ZihhtaI00W
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 26, 2020
“Human Capital Stock,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “An ugly term w ugly history, but for many powerful ppl it’s their most honest view of workers: human stock.”
“By their logic, the moment a person stops being useful to profit motive (retirement, health, etc) they are a liability,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “That’s the system we live in.”
She followed that tweet with another more directly connecting the terminology to slavery and racism:
Let’s also not ignore the racial history of this terminology, which has roots in slavery. &It’s not just the terminology that’s racialized.
Even today, the folks deemed as “human capital stock”(aka essential workers) are disproportionately Black, Brown, & low income White folks. pic.twitter.com/VO0lpCN1nP
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 26, 2020
“Let’s also not ignore the racial history of this terminology, which has roots in slavery,” Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted. “It’s not just the terminology that’s racialized.
“Even today, the folks deemed as “human capital stock”(aka essential workers) are disproportionately Black, Brown, & low income White folks,” she wrote.
The left-wing website Vox picked up on Ocasio-Cortez’s outrage and linked to her Twitter account.
White House economics adviser Kevin Hassett went viral over the weekend for referring to American workers as “human capital stock” — a racially charged, dehumanizing turn of phrase that conjured up images of livestock.
In fact, the term is common economics terminology, according to both its definition and usage.
According to dictionary.com, it means “the collective skills, knowledge, or other intangible assets of individuals that can be used to create economic value for the individuals, their employers, or their community.”
“Education is an investment in human capital that pays off in terms of higher productivity,” the dictionary website’s sample sentence states.
The Economics Help website used the global Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to explain human capital:
According to the OECD, human capital is defined as: “The knowledge, skills, competencies and other attributes embodied in individuals or groups of individuals acquired during their life and used to produce goods, services or ideas in market circumstances.”
- Individual human capital – the skills and abilities of individual workers
- Human capital of the economy – The aggregate human capital of an economy, which will be determined by national educational standards.
The website also listed the factors used to determine human capital:
- Skills and qualifications
- Education levels
- Work experience
- Social skills – communication
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgement [sic]
- Personality – hard working, harmonious in an office
- Habits and personality traits
- Creativity. Ability to innovate new working practices/products.
- Fame and brand image of an individual. e.g. celebrities paid to endorse a product.
- Geography – Social peer pressure of local environment can affect expectations and attitudes.
Even mainstream media CBS News, while picking up on the headline, admitted the term is not derogatory.
“Trump adviser says America’s ‘human capital stock’ ready to return to work, sparking anger,” the CBS headline read.
“Despite the backlash, the term is standard in economics, and refers to the labor force or workers,” CBS reported. “Yet the incident points to the disconnect between economists’ technical vocabulary and the stress that many unemployed or furloughed workers are experiencing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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