Think Tanks: Get with the Program on Human Capital

I love how the think tanks are putting their social and intellectual capital to work in the service of fighting inequality.  We can’t have enough people on board.  Which is why I was happy to catch up with the Economic Policy Institute’s interactive website,


Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration (Bill’s, that is) tells the tale in his calm, rational voice, which belies his outrage at the fact that 1 percent of Americans are taking home nearly 20 percent of the country’s total income, owning 35 percent of the nation’s wealth.  “It didn’t happen by accident,” he says.  “Economic inequality is real, it’s personal, it’s expensive, and it was created” (italics, mine: Reich, in case you hadn’t noticed, is an unreconstructed progressive—no mincing words about the structural causes of the problem).  “Since the 1960s, tax rates on very high incomes have been slashed dramatically, starving public investments in schools, roads, and everything else needed to build our economy.”

So much for cradle-to-career.

I gravitated—naturally—to the “fixable” section, skipping “Pamper the rich,” and making a beeline for education. Where I found the following:

Wages for workers with a college degree have been flat.  There’s no evidence that increasing the share of the workforce with a college degree is going to increase the share of the workforce seeing wage growth keeping up with productivity.

The real split in the American economy is between the top 1 percent and everybody else. The stratospheric growth at the very top is not about their education, it’s about their success in wielding economic power and changing the rules of the game.

I get it about the college degree, although I hate to admit it (my own millennial son, himself a college graduate and gainfully employed, has been telling me this for years).  But there’s only so much cynicism I can take.  Here’s my beef: this lovely interactive website has nada about human capital creation, i.e. the early care and education of children.

Here’s ECE’s human capital guru, James Heckman, upon the introduction of the bipartisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act:

Human capital is a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure. Quality birth-to-five early childhood education for disadvantaged children can simultaneously reduce inequality and boost productivity in America. A solid body of research shows the cost-effectiveness of early childhood development in helping to prevent achievement gaps, boost school achievement, promote better health outcomes, improve our workforce, increase productivity and reduce the need for costly social spending.

Our nation faces significant economic and social challenges. Investing in quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children is an important component of a strategy for developing skills that help people thrive and society prosper. It is socially fair and economically efficient.

Anyone listening?


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1 comment to Think Tanks: Get with the Program on Human Capital

  • I hear you loud and clear. YES. One of the many things about how we are wasting human capital is how our ignorance about the poor is expressed in so many oppressive ways. here’s one:
    So many children come from homes barren of complexity, where, for instance, so few words are spoken, that the enter kindergarten illiterate. What’s the solution? Drill them on all the things they missed: how to spell their name, alphabet memorization, the names of animals and plants, and then keep testing them until they show they’ve got it.
    Why doesn’t it occur to those in school to challenge them with the complexity that they missed, the same thing their affluent counter-parts got.

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