“Stock of human capital”: White House adviser Hassett describes American workers

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett went viral over the weekend for calling American workers a “stock of human capital” – a racistdehumanizing twist that evokes images of cattle.

“Our stock of human capital is ready to get back to work,” Hassett told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday, as part of his argument that the U.S. economy is poised for a rapid recovery, even as he recognized that the unemployment rate will persist in double digits until the November elections.

While many including the House Democratic Caucustook umbrage at Hassett’s remarks, others, like new York The magazine’s Jonathan Chait noted that “human capital” has a less inflammatory connotation.

“Yes, economists should probably avoid confusing jargon when communicating in public, but I think people are way too outraged by an economist using an economic term,” Chait said. tweeted.

And indeed, there are a number of academic publications using the term, which economists use to refer to “the knowledge, skills, competences and other attributes embodied by individuals or groups of individuals acquired during their lifetime and used to produce goods, services or ideas under market circumstances.

Hassett generally comes across as one of the more balanced Trump White House spokespeople, so it’s not unreasonable to give him the benefit of the doubt. But even if one is inclined to interpret the remark about the “stock of human capital” in a benign way, it should be noted that the point he was trying to make – that Americans are eager to get back to work despite the dangers posed by Covid-19 – actually contradicts the available evidence.

America’s ‘human capital stock’ is actually not eager to get back to work

Polls, in fact, indicate that ordinary Americans are far less enthusiastic about getting back to normal life than the likes of Hassett and President Donald Trump would have you believe.

On Saturday, my colleague Zeeshan Aleem detailed new Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research a poll that found Americans are generally not enthusiastic about resuming activities they were doing before the pandemic hit, such as using public transportation or going to the gym.

There’s a good reason for the reluctance — the number of new coronavirus cases diagnosed per day is currently stuck around 20,000, with many states showing an increase. In short, people rightly fear getting sick.

The AP/NORC Center poll agrees with a Washington Post/Ipsos poll conducted from April 27 to May 4 that found 74% of Americans want the United States to focus on controlling the virus instead of reopening businesses – and that 54% think Trump is doing so little to make sure people can return to work safely. Other recent polls, from Citrix and Qualtrics, found that about two-thirds of Americans said they were not yet ready to return to work.

But rather than take steps to make returning to work as safe as possible for workers, Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have made protecting businesses from legal liability for potentially hazardous working conditions their top priority for any future. coronavirus legislation.

To the extent that Trump has promoted a plan to get Americans back to work safely, he has put forward a combination of wishful thinking (“it will go away”) and promoting unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine which he hopes will become miracle cures. Meanwhile, his hopes for a second term dwindle with each day the economy is damaged by business closures.

But instead of drawing up a plan — or even advocating for one drawn up by his Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Trump absurdly cited a strong day for the Dow on Tuesday as proof that “states should open up as soon as possible”.

But the stock market is not the economy. As my colleague Emily Stewart explained, it is artificially inflated by help from the Federal Reserve and Congress. On the other hand, businesses that have reopened in states like Georgia and Texas are struggling with a lack of demand and reduced capacity, thanks to continued social distancing efforts.

In a perfect world, of course, Americans could return to work and do so safely. But in reality, those who cannot work from home are largely reluctant to return to their workplace as they do not yet feel safe.

Hassett’s remarks were an effort to mislead people about this state of affairs. And in doing so, he may have let the mask slip a bit.

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Sallie R. Loera