Human Capital




“The Green Makers”


Human Capital 2I recently came across a rather interesting blog in which the author decried those companies who think of their employees as “human capital” because, as he wrote, “While the denotation of ‘human capital’ remains innocent enough, the term’s connotation echoes master-servant ideology.” I think that author is correct in that assumption. I also think it’s an honesty I find rather refreshing because you don’t often get corporate America to admit what’s really going on these days.


What term do you suppose those who send jobs to China have for the poor peasants who ultimately do that work? Those workers are paid, on average 42¢ per hour and work an average of 60 hours a week in conditions so terrible that in one of the plants the leading cause of employee turnover is suicide! If the CEO of American Amalgamated decides the proper term for those poor souls in China should be Associates or Comrades or any other such thing, does it really matter? I mean, haven’t we already established that the difference between that kind of labor and slave labor is not spacious?


But go further than that. Take the case of Americans working in this country. What does a young person now starting out have for a beginning wage? What are his prospects if he works hard and cares about the company? I worked at a number of companies in my own working life and was always assured at the beginning of almost every job that I was a highly valued asset to them. The reality of that was always a bit different.

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We read quite a bit about the fall of Enron and the many millions lost by big investors, but what of the people who worked there, the rank and file who simply wanted to make a living, those who had invested in a retirement program they were assured was top drawer and then learned that it was fraudulent and they’d lost their entire fortunes. What of them?


What of the people who work nowadays? What kind of salary do they get, what kind of retirement package? Unions have been dying for years, and as they die, so dies the future of those who do the work that makes the company prosper. In recent years the manufacturing jobs have all gone to China, and this country has been left with the dregs. Lots and lots of working people these days have no future, no way to go, nothing that makes it better. What of them?


Just recently the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy. It was once a city of 1.8 million. It was prosperous. The automobile industry flourished, and the middle class did quite nicely for itself. And as the middle class flourished, so did the economy, because unlike the very rich, the middle class spend their wages, thereby creating not so much a trickle-down economy as a trickle-everywhere economy. Or better yet, flow-everywhere economy because the very rich tend to be misers, whereas the middle class has ever sought to improve its standard of living, and as it does so the economy prospers.

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But now we have case after case wherein automobile workers who were previously making a decent living are now glad to get a part time job in a fast food outlet. Does anyone really think they care what they are called? But let’s go further than that; let’s get down to the nitty gritty as we used to say back in the late Sixties when people were outraged enough to fill the streets with protests.


Follow the money, because that’s always where it lies. Just the other night I saw an installment on American Greed about the world’s biggest medical drug manufacturer that had been found guilty of deliberately recommending a pain killer drug for a great many things other than what it had originally been designed for. The upshot of this was that a very large number of people developed adverse side effects, up to and including death. Why were doctors proscribing it? Because the drug company’s sales department had convinced them that it was a miracle pain reliever. Once a drug is developed, of course, it costs almost nothing to manufacture it, so the profits are high. But this time round there were some whistle blowers, and the drug company was fined 2.3 billion dollars. Justice was served. Well, maybe not justice. The drug company denied that they had ever done it and promised to never do it again. And despite its being the largest fine ever accessed, the drug company sent a check forthwith for the full amount. It didn’t really strain them all that much, as that amount of money really only accounted for three weeks of drug sales. Think they’ll do it again? C’mon, that’s the safe bet, right?

Human Capital 6But ask yourself this: they knew the drug was not approved for those other uses, and after a period of time, they knew about the adverse side effects, but they did it anyway. What does that tell you about how they feel about the general public? Or those who work for them?

And going further, in that scenario does it really matter whether they call those who work in their plants employees, associates, or human capital? Sound cynical? There’s more.


Look at the actual working conditions for the vast majority these days. Every year health care becomes more expensive and delivers less, but the same single payer system used by every other industrialized nation is rejected as socialism. Even companies that could well afford it plead poverty, so a great many of the rank and file these days have gone without salary increases for several years. And no one says a word because the powers that be have let us know that the labor force is NOT to make things difficult for them. If they do, the fat cats will simply send those jobs to China because it’s like Nineteenth Century America there, and those who rule us all yearn for those days.


Personally, I like the term human capital. It gets us ready for what’s coming next. Today’s human capital is the future’s Soylent Green.