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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Rapport : L’homme, ça rapporte combien ?

by Pierre Musso

Report: What Price on a Man’s Head? Where Economists See Man as a Monetary Commodity: an Analysis

Translated Sunday 27 May 2007, by Carol Gullidge

Defined as “human capital”, man is simply to be managed, counted, and treated in terms of financial profit or loss, in other words, as an “immaterial asset”.

The free-market economists of the OECD who uphold the theory of “the economics of knowledge and the immaterial” rely on a principle established in 1994 by one of their American colleagues, J.W. Kendrick. The latter stated that, in the United States, the total of “tangible capital assets”, taken as the sum of the structures, materials, supplies and natural resources had, since 1973, fallen below the “intangible capital assets” – or the sum of spending on education, health, security, and research. The [ratio of the] supply of tangible capital assets compared to that of intangible capital assets more than doubled between 1929 and 1990. A “knowledge-based economy” was thus supposed to develop over a very long period of time.

This approach allows the authors of the report to declare that “our greatest asset is man”, in other words, talents, knowledge, and skills. Beyond this fine humanist declaration, the idea is to treat man as a financial commodity: “We should treat human capital as an economic resource”. Defined as a “human capital”, man is simply to be managed, counted, and treated in terms of financial profit or loss, in other words, as an “immaterial asset”. The aim of the report is to set out this monetary and financial vision of expertise, knowledge and culture as an ideological reality.

In post-Ford capitalism, growth and value always rest on the human factor and on its intellectual output. This principle entails two major consequences:

1) Broadening and intensifying the exploitation of the whole range of human factors. Output does not differentiate between conception and production: between brain and brawn. Work has become an activity in which an individual becomes engaged with all his being – physically, mentally (stress), psychologically, and imaginatively, etc. From a Taylorian logic of disassociation of knowledge and execution of the process, we move to a post-Ford logic of integrating all the expertise and cognitive potential of individuals.

2) The monetization of human work “valued” as a “capital stock” comprising expertise and intellectual output (qualifications, creations, rights to intellectual property or brands, etc.). The aim is to turn all cognitive skills into commodities and to harness what economists call “immaterial profits”, often protected by the laws of intellectual property. The reporters stress the fact that in this way, “intellectual property has a central place in immaterial economics”.

The notion of “human capital” therefore allows a human being to be reduced to a stock of expertise and knowledge to be accounted for in monetary terms, and given a financial value. This is the ultimate in extending the financial logic to the whole of society.


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