When a philological panel declared the term “human capital” to be the “ugliest expression (Unwort) of the year 2004” at the beginning of the year, the glee amongst the non-economists was great: at last a head-on attack against the dominance of the capitalistic categories in public discourse, and finally a social degradation of their heralds, the economists. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 20.01.05 noted a “storm of indignation” amongst the economists and offered a forum to ten economists who hold a chair to voice their indignation. Their comments, however, inadvertently illustrate the accuracy of Marx’s judgement about the common academic economists, who only pedanticise the expressions of the practical agents of capital without being able to grasp the concept of the matter and develop it.
One professor groused that the selection of this expression is “PISA squared” and disparaged the term as solely being a “terminus technicus for education and training”. This formula was the common denominator of all ten comments. Professor Neumann (Bonn), after all, admitted that his guild uses “a lot of ugly expressions – just think of ‘natural unemployment’”, without realising that unemployment is not natural but is societally determined and the objective spirit of the capitalistic system. Professor Kleinhenz (Passau) emphatically forbids the “paths of the Marxist criticism of capitalism”, which he suspects are behind the choice of this ugly expression. Walter Krämer (Dortmund), like all nouveau droite intellectuals, fulminates against the posturing of the do-gooders who chose this term. The economist Wolfgang Franz (Mannheim) is the only person to mention real capital, and he elaborates on the two elementary categories of capital: “One must invest in real capital just as one invests in human capital, i.e. one must learn to appropriate it, and unfortunately human capital is also subject to depreciation since it becomes obsolete as a result of technical progress. The analogy is, of course, not perfect; there are considerable differences between human capital and other capital goods: human capital is intrinsically connected to man.”
Human and real capital are the same as variable and constant capital in Karl Marx. Initially, both are part of the total money supply and
· buy labour and means of production that become used up in the processes of production,
· reappear in finished commodities or services,
· are to be realised on the market in a larger money supply,
and so forth ad infinitum.
Monetary growth (which embodies the famous surplus-value) must constantly be exuded out of this complete process in order that one can speak of capital, for capital is not present in “capital goods” but only in this permanent cycle.
It is therefore foolish to call human labour-force (a term that our ideologists of capital indeed manage to avoid completely) – however it is qualified – human capital. The production of labour-force, too, in the processes of education, schooling and training is by no means an “investment in human capital”, but is the generation of pedagogical goods – namely of labour-force – and, like life in its totality, is an end in itself. And human labour-force is certainly not subject to a so-called depreciation, for it is the highest Good with many different qualities, capable of multiplication, but is not capital. For capital has only a single quality: the unchanging, one-dimensional value that can only distinguish itself quantitatively and can ultimately only be expressed in monetary differences.
Nobody can “invest in human capital”, and also not in real capital. Only capital (the eternal cycle of money to more money) can be invested – in material, ideal and pedagogical productions. Capital can subsume these spheres of human production formally and actually, but without ultimately gaining more from this whole wealth of the human world than a mere increase of its sole paltry value-dimension.