- 2018年01月09日14:09 来源：互联网
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Human capital——The people's champion
Gary Becker made humans the central focus of economics. The second in our series on big economic ideas.
WHY do families in rich countries have fewer children?
Why do companies in poor countries often provide meals for their workers?
Why has each new generation spent more time in school than the one that came before?
Why have earnings of highly skilled workers risen even as their numbers have also increased?
Why should universities charge tuition fees?
This is an incredibly diverse array of questions.
The answers to some might seem intuitive; others are more perplexing.
For Gary Becker, an American economist who died in 2014, a common thread ran through them all: human capital.
Simply put, human capital refers to the abilities and qualities of people that make them productive.
Knowledge is the most important of these, but other factors, from a sense of punctuality to the state of someone's health, also matter.
Investment in human capital thus mainly refers to education but it also includes other things—the inoculation of values by parents, say, or a healthy diet.
Just as investing in physical capital—whether building a new factory or upgrading computers—can pay off for a company, so investments in human capital also pay off for people.
The earnings of well-educated individuals are generally higher than those of the wider population.
All this might sound obvious.
As far back as Adam Smith in the 18th century, economists had noted that production depended not just on equipment or land but also on peoples' abilities.
But before the 1950s, when Becker first examined links between education and incomes, little thought was given to how such abilities fit with economic theory or public policy.
Instead, economists' general practice was to treat labour as an undifferentiated mass of workers, lumping the skilled and unskilled together.
To the extent that topics such as training were thought about, the view was pessimistic.
Arthur Pigou, a British economist who is credited with coining the term “human capital”, believed there would be an under-supply of trained workers because companies would not want to teach skills to employees only to see them poached by rivals.
After the second world war, when America's GI bill helped millions complete high school and university, education started to receive more attention from economists, Becker among them.
The son of parents who had never got beyond the eighth grade but who filled his childhood home with discussions about politics, he wanted to investigate the structure of society.
Lectures by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, where Becker completed his graduate studies in 1955, showed him the analytical power of economic theory.
Doctoral degree in hand, Becker, then in his mid-20s, was hired by the National Bureau of Economic Research to work on a project calculating returns on schooling.
随后，在25、6岁的时候，博士学位在手的贝克尔受雇于国民经济调查局(National Bureau of Economic Research)，为一个计算教育回报的项目工作。
What seemed a simple question led him to realise that no one had yet fleshed out the concept of human capital.
In subsequent years he developed it into a full-fledged theory that could be applied to any number of questions and, soon enough, to issues previously seen as outside the realm of economics, from marriage to fertility.
One of Becker's earliest contributions was to distinguish between specific and general human capital.
Specific capital arises when workers acquire knowledge directly tied to their firms, such as how to use proprietary software.
Companies are happy to pay for this kind of training because it is not transferable.
By contrast, as Pigou suggested, firms are often reluctant to stump up for general human capital: teach employees to be good software programmers and they may well jump ship to whichever company pays them the most.