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The Human Capital Transition and the Role of Policy

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Handbook of Cliometrics

Abstract

Along with information and communication technology, infrastructure, and the innovation system, human capital is a key pillar of the knowledge economy with its scope for increasing returns. With this in mind, the purpose of this chapter is to investigate how industrialized economies managed to achieve the transition from low to high levels of human capital. The first phase of the human capital transition was the result of the interaction of supply and demand, triggered by technological change and boosted by the demands for (immaterial) services. The second phase of the human capital transition (i.e., mass education) resulted from enforced legislation and major public investment. The state’s aim to influence children’s beliefs appears to have been a key driver in public investment. Nevertheless, the roles governments played differed according to the developmental status and inherent socioeconomic and political characteristics of their countries. These features of the human capital transition highlight the importance of understanding governments’ incentives and roles in transitions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In contrast, another strand of the literature suggests that there might also be negative externalities because human capital would not increase productivities but only waste valuable resources due to signaling effects (e.g. Spence 1973). However, Lange and Topel (2006) do not find important negative impacts; the positive effects largely dominate.

  2. 2.

    In addition, the assumption of perfect competitive markets implies that capital markets should be perfectly functioning. In this case, parents should always be able to find a way of financing the education of their children. This, however, is not the case either (Johnes 1993).

  3. 3.

    For example, the existence of public schools may have led to a monopoly of these schools in certain geographical areas. Taking the point of view of the market, schools may thus not have been under market pressure to ensure quality standards and low operating costs. Some recent reforms have been aimed at improving the status quo and in part reorganizing the involvement of the state in this sector (Brewer et al. 2010).

  4. 4.

    For example, Milton Friedman also suggests that “a stable and democratic society is impossible without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens and without widespread acceptance of some common set of values. Education can contribute to both” (Friedman 1962, p. 86; in Gradstein et al. 2005, p. 5). He further argues that “the major problem in the United States in the 19th and early twentieth century was not to promote diversity but to create the core of common values essential to a stable society… Immigrants were flooding the United States… speaking different languages and observing diverse customs … The public school had an important function in this task, not least by imposing English as a common language” (Friedman 1962, p. 96, in Gradstein et al. 2005, p. 9).

  5. 5.

    According to Sweetland (1996), the area of education can be further broken down: “[t]here is formalized education at primary, secondary, and higher levels (Cohn and Geske 1990), informal education at home and at work (Schultz 1981), on-the-job training and apprenticeships (Mincer 1974), and specialized vocational education at secondary and higher levels (Corazzini 1967)” (Sweetland 1996, p. 341).

  6. 6.

    An interesting question is whether there were also incentives for inventing technologies to sidestep the guilds. Epstein mentions that inventors had an incentive to keep their inventions secret from the guild. Yet, “although technical secrets were often kept within the craftsman’s family, it is unlikely that significant breakthroughs could withstand a guild’s scrutiny for long. On the other hand, an inventor had to weigh the guild’s offer of a temporary quasi-monopoly rent against the possibility of obtaining a one-off royalty (net of migration costs) from a rival craft or government” (1998 p. 704).

  7. 7.

    A comment from the early 1960s, after the decline in this form of training, summarizes what happened: “apprenticeship has all but disappeared, partly because it is now inefficient and partly because schools now perform many of its functions. Its disappearance has been hastened no doubt by the difficulty of enforcing apprenticeship agreements. Legally they have come to smack of indentured service” (Schultz 1961, p. 10).

  8. 8.

    They estimate this number in the following way: “Assuming that youths would earn a rising fraction of adult income with age (20% at age 14, 40% at age 15, 60% at age 16, 70% at age 17, 80% at age 18, 90% at age 19, and [100]% at age 20 – see Van Zanden (2009b), p. 160), a provincial adult unskilled wage of 1 s per day, that youths work 228 days per year (Voth 2001), and a discount rate of 7.5%, the present value of lost earnings during an apprenticeship, relative to a subsistence income of £5 per annum, was about 26 pounds” (Minns and Wallis 2013, p. 344).

  9. 9.

    In fact, the printing press was first invented in Korea. For more details, see Hippe (2015).

  10. 10.

    This fall in prices also had a major impact on the spread of the ideas of Protestantism. For example, Luther’s translation of the New Testament in 1522 was affordable even to laborers (Stöber 2004).

  11. 11.

    Similarly, Clark (2004, p. 8) calculates that “the estimated price of a standard page of text in the middle ages was 50 times the price in 1700–59.”

  12. 12.

    See Ekelund et al. (2002) for an economic interpretation of the Protestant reformation and Ekelund et al. (2004) for an exploration of the economics of the Counter-Reformation.

  13. 13.

    The question whether religious competition leads to more or less religious participation by individuals is still disputed. On the one hand, it is argued that the existence of various religions leads to a decrease in the plausibility of a given religion and thus less religious participation (Chaves and Gorski 2001). On the other hand, authors such as Adam Smith suggest that a non-state-sponsored religious group has to provide special care for its believers, raising the quality of and participation rate in religious activities (Iannaccone et al. 1997). For more information, see Höhener and Schaltegger (2012).

  14. 14.

    More generally, the authors see the values in formal education close to those of Protestantism, as highlighted by Weber (1958): “formal education’s emphasis on individual socialization and achievement parallels the Protestant emphasis on the individual’s unmediated relation to God and individual salvation” (Soysal and Strang 1989, p. 279).

  15. 15.

    Numbers from France emphasize the stark increase in newspaper production: “[i]n 1840 the monthly issue of all the Paris journals totalled less than three million copies. By 1882 it was up to 44 million copies (Cipolla 1969, p. 107).”

  16. 16.

    The same can be said of the evolution in numeracy (A’Hearn et al. 2009).

  17. 17.

    He distinguishes three cases: egalitarian, elite, and autocratic forms of power distribution. In the egalitarian case, the preferences of the majority were implemented by the elites. Thus, there was a high risk that policy measures were simply redundant or not meeting private demand. In these societies, the acquisition of education meant the prospect of moving up the social ladder, leading to popular demand. When the powers in society were more concentrated but upward mobility was still possible (e.g., in France and Germany), the effectiveness of public educational policy was probably higher. Finally, in the case of more autocratic forms of government, when power was extremely concentrated (such as in Spain and Portugal) and the masses lived at low standards of living, public action was ineffective. On the one hand, demand was low and actions by the state were perceived as intruding into family life. On the other hand, local elites blocked educational changes that may have been intended at the national level (Mitch 1992b).

  18. 18.

    Overall, the Prussian kings were not fervent promoters of the spread of mass education. They “did as much, and said as much, to block schooling and free thought as to spread it” (Lindert 2004, p. 118).

  19. 19.

    Here, it is assumed that all regions benefit socially from higher education levels.

  20. 20.

    Some studies have suggested the existence of a human capital Kuznets curve, adapting the idea of Kuznets (1955) to education. In other words, increases in human capital inequality in earlier phases are followed by subsequent reductions in human capital inequality in later phases of economic development. For empirical contributions, see, e.g., De Gregorio and Lee (2002), Castello and Domenech (2002), Lim and Tang (2008), and Morrisson and Murtin (2013); for theoretical models see, e.g., Galor and Tsiddon (1996), Glomm and Ravikumar (1998), and Matsuo and Tomoda (2012).

  21. 21.

    The level of salaries was quite diverse across Europe. However, for the most part, they seem to have been low. Thus, Cipolla (1969) suggests that the average salary of a teacher was comparable to that of a craftsman before the nineteenth century. In addition, the social status of teachers still varied importantly from one European country to the other in the nineteenth century. For example, teachers enjoyed high public respect in Germany (and Prussia in particular) (Cipolla 1969). Social prestige and income may thus be causes of high quality. Perhaps a long-standing tradition of the teaching profession was also an important factor. In contrast, schoolmasters and mistresses did not have a good reputation and did not have much prestige in England and southern Italy in the nineteenth century.

  22. 22.

    It uses a particular heaping phenomenon in the age distribution of censuses and other comparable data to calculate numeracy levels. More specifically, individuals over-reported ages ending in 0 and 5 to census takers, leading to significant spikes in the age distribution. The reason for this was that they were not able to count and to know their exact age, so that they rounded it. This is a well-known phenomenon that can be found in historical sources and in a range of developing countries today. For further information, see A’Hearn et al. (2009), Hippe and Baten (2012), Hippe (2012, 2013b, 2014).

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Hippe, R., Fouquet, R. (2019). The Human Capital Transition and the Role of Policy. In: Diebolt, C., Haupert, M. (eds) Handbook of Cliometrics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-00181-0_79

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