Investments in human capital require an upfront cost but provide long-term benefits. Human capital is much broader than just education and includes any investment that improves the quality of production. These decisions include things like moving across the country or improving one’s health. The US government uses some of its tax receipts to invest in healthcare for its citizens. This investment has resulted in increases in life expectancy, especially for those that have been treated at the National Institute of Health.
Boston — Rock & Roll Band (1976)
This song is older but is still useful as a discussion about investing in human capital. Human capital is much more than just getting a degree. Human capital also involves general knowledge (what do you know?), skills (what can you do?), experience (where have you been?), and personal characteristics (are you reliable? do you work well with others?). If you have a small enough class, ask students to identify investment in these characteristics based on the story in the song. Not only does the song tell a good story, but it also shows that there’s more than one way to get an education.
Thanks to Bryan Sloss for the submission and summary!
I Can See Your Voice — Asymmetric Information
Could you tell if someone is a good singer just by the way they look or by how they lip-sync a song? In this music game show, contestants perform a variety of tasks and judges have to decide whether or not the person is actually a good singer. The show’s host and the performers know the truth, but the judges are left in the dark. This show, and even just the concept of the show, is a great example of asymmetric information. For judges, it’s hard to make decisions with limited information, but they’ll use signals to see if they can be successful.
Full episodes of I Can See Your Voice can be found on Fox: https://www.fox.com/i-can-see-your-voice/
Thanks to Shreyasee Das for the recommendation!
Brooklyn 99 — The Assistant
Captain Holt, the dry, stoic, strictly professional captain of the Brooklyn 99 precinct, is searching for a new assistant. He is exhausted by the search process and finds all applicants unsuitable for reasons such as using improper grammar in an interview, and including Microsoft Word use in the “special skills” section of a resume. Exhausted by the search, he gives up and is willing to forgo an assistant just to not have to deal with the search process. His subordinate, Detective Jake Peralta, persuades Captain Holt that Peralta can find an assistant for him, and Captain Holt agrees on the terms that he can fire whomever Peralta hires.
This episode is an example of employer frictions resulting from search costs. Both Holt and Peralta have to devote man-hours to the search, and for the particularly selective Captain Holt, the search costs are high enough that Holt is willing to do the work of an assistant himself without extra pay. The opportunity cost of Peralta searching for assistant is less than the opportunity cost of Holt searching, likely both because Holt faces high psychic costs of the search and because, as a detective, Peralta’s time is worth less to the precinct than the captain’s time. Holt’s decision to allow Peralta to search for an assistant suggests that the opportunity cost of Peralta’s lost man-hours do not outweigh the expected gain of Holt having an administrative assistant, which would allow Holt to be more productive in his position in the future and results in a net gain for the overall productivity of the precinct.
Submission and description submitted by Melissa Paton
Sarah Silverman — Stop Telling Girls They Can Be Anything They Want
While I was listening to Hi! Bob on Audible, one of the scenes involved Sarah Silverman and Bob Newhart discussing stand up comedy. The clip in the chapter comes from Silverman’s set entitled, “We Are Miracles” and discusses the impact of priming on young women. Telling people they can be anything they want can possible introduce issues they maybe never thought were issues before. How we talk to young women often plays a role in future human capital acquisition and may lead to a form of subtle human capital discrimination.
Good Will Hunting — Value of a Degree
In this iconic scene from Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon gets into a confrontation at a bar with an undergrad who is trying to embarrass his friend who is trying to impress a group of young women. In the process of humiliating the other student, the two get into a key distinction on the value of a college degree. Someone could obtain the same knowledge of a college degree from accessing a public library, but the lack of an actual degree (a signal perhaps) limits the job opportunities available for many.
Thanks to Charlie Clarke for the post!
A point argued by will hunting, “you spent $150,000 on an education you could have got for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.”https://t.co/OGHaP8ZRl2
— Charlie Clarke (@wagonomics) November 25, 2018
CBS TV — Kennedy on the Labor Market & Unemployment
In a 1963 Labor Day interview with Walter Cronkite, President Kennedy discusses his position on handling the labor market of the United States with around 4 million unemployed (about 5.5% at the time). Kennedy notes that the growing labor force in the United States requires that if the US wants to “stand still,” they still need to move very fast. Kennedy’s main policy focus at the time was retraining workers who had been displaced by technology and making sure that significant amount of workers have the necessary education to handle the growing workforce.
Kennedy also speaks to the lost jobs in “hardcore unemployed” industries like coal and steel and how it’s important to make sure those workers are retrained because those workers are no longer needed. He then laments that there’s a different issue with older workers replaced by technology and younger workers who don’t have the education to handle that technology. Kennedy ends this portion of the interview with a very powerful quote about the fear of automation:
Too many people coming into the labor market, too many machines are throwing people out.
You can view the entire interview, courtesy of the Kennedy Presidential Library, on YouTube.
John Mulaney — Majoring in English
After receiving a donation request from his undergraduate university, Mulaney questions the purpose of college. After spending $120,000 to major in English, he realizes that he may not have actually gotten out of it what he thought he would (human capital), but instead received a lot of consumptive benefits. He doesn’t mention the signalling aspect of a college degree, but it’s implied through his analysis on the lack of training he received.
Chris Rock — High School Orientation
Chris Rock describes taking his daughter to her high school orientation and hearing the vice principle talk about how students can be anything that they want to be. While optimistic, Rock points out that it’s more appropriate to tell them that they can be whatever they’re good at as long as someone is hiring. It turns out Chris Rock and stand up comedy has a lot of insights on economics.
Thanks to Kim Holder and ECONShots for clip idea!
Brooklyn 99 — Name a Rich Juggler
Gina is back after maternity leave, but is missing her child. Terry decides to check in on Gina and ask how she’s handling her new role juggling a new child while still returning to work. Gina points out that juggling isn’t that hard or else you would see a lot of rich performers. Typically people who go through more training and have more human capital are paid better, but that may not be the case for jugglers.