Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why is investment in human capital out of favor?

David Brooks:
The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.

I got this quote via Aaron Carroll.  One thing that seems to have really changed in the public mind over the past 5 years is the simple relationship between investment in human capital and improved outcomes.  Putting aside the Randian fantasy of super-men who can do it all on their own, all of us are dependent on others to a greater or lesser extent.  Hard work may well make opportunity into success but all of the hard work in the world doesn't help in the absence of opportunity.  Just ask any coal miner or subsistence farmer . . . 


  1. My impression is that Romney thinks that benefits from government lead to dependency, whereas benefits from family or church do not. (Romney doesn't deny receiving benefits from his own family.) The argument, perhaps, is that to get benefits from government, you just have to fill out a form, whereas to get benefits from family or church you need to be polite, etc., to satisfy your benefactors. This also explains why Romney does not consider civilian or military government employees to be moochers, as they are actually working for their money, not just standing in line to get their monthly checks.

    I'm not endorsing (or anti-endorsing) this view, just explaining how Romney may be more consistent than you're giving him credit for.

    1. Like so many things Romney, this is something of a gray area. You can certainly find quotes where Romney has dismissed the role money and family connections (quotes that have prompted sharp responses from Kwak, Thoma and others.)



      Nor, to my knowledge, has he said anything about the role the Romney name might have played in what was a fairly connection dependent business.

      It's possible that Romney feels that substituting comparable benefits from the government would have created dependency, but, based on what he's said, it's also possible that he hasn't really acknowledged how much benefit he got from family money and connections.

  2. @Andrew: this is an interesting take on this view and one that makes a lot of sense. Thank you.