Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Person/People versus Personnel/Human Resources versus Human Capital

I've just taken a first stab at getting down on paper, my sleep/dream epiphanic thought stream concerning the term human capital.

This is still very rough but the epiphany is that terms such as personnel or human resource refer to the second classic factor of production (there are three - land, labor and capital) and human capital refers to the third factor of production and thus have significantly different entailments.

Furthermore the concept of person (and thus people) is a socio-political concept/construct and not an economic one (and hence also has significantly different entailments).

The question of how to integrate them into a political-economic framework remains.


A socio-political construct evoking the context of political rights – e.g. Charter of Human Rights, Legal Rights under the law, etc. Importantly person has tended to be founded on the Hobbes’ philosophy of atomistic individuals or society as based on ‘social contracts’ and the individual as a pre-determined self.

Personnel and Human Resources

Economic constructs evoking the context one of the factors of production – Labor and thus of inputs to the production process and their costs as well as corresponding contractual arrangements and assumptions – e.g. hire and fire according to contract(s) specification, acquire, use and dispense resources as required, property rights defined clearly by ownership of means of production and contractual agreement. Costs assessed by demand, need and utility of resource acquired or dispensed.

Human Capital

Economic construct evoking the context of capital goods (human-made tools and equipment), and of human capability – created and acquired (like other forms of capital) through deferral of gratification (sacrifice) in order to accrue a surplus that can be used to invest in the production of the capital capability. It also evokes the context of ownership, and profit as the natural return on the use of capital. Some forms of capital are subject to depreciation and some (e.g. human knowledge, skill, talent) are subject to appreciation (increasing returns).

The first philosophical position of a new theory of human capital is to substantiate a foundation of the ‘dialectical’ individual. That is, an individual can only grasp or access their ‘humanness’ within a social context. To be human is to be social. The dialectic individuals create the social/society that creates them.

Can one be human without the experience of immersion in human culture? This is not a question of being a biological ‘human’ mammal/primate, it is a question of defining humanness.

In this approach all technology (as techne – technique and all tools – conceptual or material) is human construction including: language; symbol systems; social constructs, values, beliefs, systems and structures; are culturally imbedded and define us as humans. Without such we are simply a form of biological primate, but not ‘human’.

The creation of such technology required effort, deferred gratification (sacrifice) to produce required surpluses of time, skill, knowledge, etc. in order to in turn produce the human-made tools (capital goods including the intangible, conceptual, social, psycho-social, intellectual, etc. goods).

Thus unlike the concepts of personnel and/or human resource which are embedded in the constructs of labor as a factor of production – human capital is embedded in a different factor of production expressing the necessary investments required for human creation of tools and capabilities. Without such ongoing investments (as opposed to costs) production itself is not sustainable nor even possible.

Human capital evokes the dialectical individual – humans creating tools that in turn create humanness and in this way integrates the frameworks of person as social construct and capital as human construct – and further both have similar entailments regarding property rights (and corresponding rights regimes).