In some way, the idea of "human capital" is similar to Karl Marx's concept of labor power: he thought in capitalism workers sold their labor power in order to receive income (wages and salaries). But long before Mincer or Becker wrote, Marx pointed to "two disagreeably frustrating facts" with theories that equate wages or salaries with the interest on human capital.
1. The worker must actually work, exert his or her mind and body, to earn this "interest." Marx strongly distinguished between one's capacity to work, Labor power, and the activity of working.
2. A free worker cannot sell his human capital in one go; it is far from being a liquid asset, even more illiquid than shares and land. ...view middle of the document...
This theory has had a significant share of study in the field proving that wages can be higher for employees on aspects other than human capital. Some variables that have been identified in the literature of the past few decades include, gender and nativity wage differentials, discrimination in the work place, and socioeconomic status. However, Austrian economist Walter Block theorizes that these variables are not the cause of gender wage gap. Thomas J. DiLorenzo summarizes Block' s theory well: "marriage affects men and women very differently in terms of their future earning abilities, and is therefore an important cause of the male/female wage gap". Block alleges that there is no wage gap between unmarried men and women, but married men salaries are usually more than married women. These wages, he contends, are the opportunity cost of being a mother and raising children.
The prestige of a credential may be as important as the knowledge gained in determining the value of an education. This points to the existence of market imperfections such as non-competing groups and labor-market segmentation. In segmented labor markets, the "return on human capital" differs between comparably skilled labor-market groups or segments. An example of this is discrimination against minority or female employees.
Following Becker, the human capital literature often distinguishes between "specific" and "general" human capital. Specific human capital refers to skills or knowledge that is useful only to a single employer or industry, whereas general human capital (such as literacy) is useful to all employers. Economists view firm specific human capital as risky, since firm closure or industry decline lead to skills that cannot be transferred (the evidence on the quantitative importance of firm specific capital is unresolved).
Human capital is central to debates about welfare, education, health care, and retirement..
Mobility between nations
Educated individuals often migrate from poor countries to rich countries seeking opportunity. This movement has positive effects for both countries: capital-rich countries gain an influx in labor, and labor rich countries receive capital when migrants remit money home. The loss of labor in the old country also increases the wage rate for those who do not emigrate. When workers migrate, their early care and education generally benefit the country where they move to work. And, when they have health problems or retire, their care and retirement pension will typically be paid in the new country.
African nations have invoked this argument with respect to slavery, other colonized peoples have invoked it with respect to the "brain drain" or "human capital flight" which occurs when the most talented individuals (those with the most individual capital) depart for education or opportunity to the colonizing country (historically, Britain and France and the U.S.). Even in Canada and other developed nations, the loss of human...