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Fixin' Healthcare

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Lifestyle Chronicles - Human Capital

The success of any activity or organization ultimately depends upon the people who are involved. Other resources such as money, space and technology are factors that draw attention but the highest relative value belongs to the people.

Evaluating people is an important activity for society. Evaluations are the source of many crucial decisions that influence the course of peoples' lives. US society is in a proplonged period of evaluating people predominantly upon skills and knowledge that can be measured by tests. There is justifiable concern that tests and testing have begun to transform society in unknown ways and in ways that may not be desirable.

David Brooks describes a concept he calls human capital that consists of five underlying components from which everything follows. The tests for skills and knowledge are only a superficial measure of human capital.

  1. Cultural capital is the habits, assumptions, emotional dispositions and linguistic capacities that are unconsciously learned by age three years from family, neighbors and ethnic groups. Studies have determined that what happens in the family shapes educational achievement more than what happens in school and most of the gaps in college attendance and delay are determined by early family factors.

  2. Social capital is the knowledge of how to behave in groups and within organizations. It can mean knowing the basic rules of politeness.

  3. Moral capital is the ability to be trustworthy. Brains and skills don't count for much in the face of chronic tardiness or absence from the site of action (work, school, etc.).

  4. Cognitive capital means brainpower. This is usually measured by IQ tests but there are cognitive skills that are not measured by such tests and can be developed over a lifetime. Some people know how to evaluate themselves and their abilities, while others do not. The same is true for sensing what others feel.

  5. Aspirational capital is the ambition to achieve. Some capable people do not use their skills and capabilities, while others exceed their measured abilities.

There is a substantial body of knowledge about these components of human capital. The things that work are local, human-to-human contacts that transform individuals beginning at an early age. Much can be done to prepare people and society for a rapidly changing economy or whatever the future might offer.

The Lifestyle Chronicles will explore the crucial stages in the development of human capital and propose mechanisms to establish healthy lifestyle. The purpose will be to demonstrate a link between human capital, lifestyle and health status. The justification will be to improve health status at a fraction of the cost of the current health care system.

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