The skills revolution undermines egalitarianism


Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate Gary Becker has specialized in human capital and claims that three quarters of America’s wealth is now represented in its people - meaning that human capital is now more important than physical capital. Today’s wealth of the nation lies in people’s skills, knowledge and health. It’s less the fertility of the soil but that of the population that counts.

In his Treatise on the Family, Becker argues that the quality of children also matters because investment in education results in an ability to command a high price on the labour market. His definition of quality comes very close to that of Thomas Hobbes:

The value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power, and therefore is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another.

The surging role of human capital in Western economies increasingly undermines the politics of the welfare state based on egalitarianism. It is not possible redistribute wealth if it isn’t something people have but is rather what they are. But it goes much further than this with science and health issues. The belief on the left in egalitarianism as an instrument for social justice is increasingly challenged by modern science:

Science measures our material and animal qualities, and it finds them to be patently unequal…We are born physically and mentally unequal, and always remain so…inequality is the human condition.