In the article Reconceptualizing Human Capital, Nancy Folbre and Paula England present “capabilities” as a concept to describe the basic requirements humans need to function effectively in the world. They use this as a platform to critique the neoclassical notion of “human capital”. They introduce capabilities (or capital) from the perspective that these until now have not been valued as actual skills that human beings require to develop; and that requires to be a part of the political, economic and educational policies of the world. What is interesting about this perspective is that it offers an actual critical alternative to capabilities that as human capital until now (through neoclassical economics) has been seen more as preferences taken on by the rational self-interested human being.
The perspective I present in this article, is an amalgamation of the neoclassical notion of the rational and self-interested human being and Folbre and England’s notion of altruism as inherent (or at least emergent) in the development of capabilities. I do this to engage in a discussion on developing an educational policy applicable in an Equal Money System that is based on what is best for all. From this it is my aim to investigate what basic capabilities are to develop ourselves as human beings to a point of utmost support for our own well-being and for the well-being of all. I will go through the capabilities as they are described by Folbre and England and consequently discuss these in relation to an Equal Money System.
Let’s first have a look at what Folbre and England’s definition of capabilities:
A Capability is a state that requires effort from the individual. It requires to be developed and enables one to function effectively in society, once applied and implemented. Capabilities are beneficial both for the individual and for the collective well-being. Folbre and England describe four different types of capabilities: physical, cognitive, self-regulating and caring capabilities.
The physical capabilities are the basic physical requirements for caring physically for oneself, such as cooking food, getting dressed, cleaning the house, knowing when to respond to pain etc. However with these basic physical functioning capabilities, Folbre and England contends that they are often not discussed or emphasized (in social science or in economy) and suggests that this can be because of the tradition in this of valuing “mind over matter” in these traditions ranging back to a focus on the metaphysical . (C.F Descartes famous quote: “I think, therefore I am”.) [i]
Cognitive capabilities include what is considered “formal education” that according to Folbre and England has an extensive impact on one’s income earning abilities. Besides these capabilities that is achieved through education, such as reading, writing and math, Folbre and England describe capabilities such as house hold economy, the ability to see the cause and effect of one’s actions and points such as mental health and emotions as part of the cognitive capabilities.
Self-Regulation capabilities are based on the ability to have self-discipline and Folbre and England suggests that this capability is the basis for the other capabilities, because without self-discipline, one is not capable to develop for example the ability to write. When self-discipline is developed one becomes able to perform tasks that one does not necessarily want to do or experience as difficult. Folbre and England suggest that self-regulation as a capability is not valued by economics as a human capital because economic theory would define self-regulation as a preference and not as a skill. Instead Folbre and England contends that self-regulation in fact is both a skill and a preference and they mention how becoming skilled and enjoying oneself once skilled mutually constitutes.
Folbre and England describes Caring capabilities as a “service” that differs from the other capabilities in that it also contains an element of altruism where having the capability might not (only) benefit oneself but also others and even that one within this could express care without it being of benefit for oneself, something that according to Folbre and England, refutes the neo-classical notion of rational self-interest. Caring capability also requires the other capabilities to function effectively, yet however also requires certain emotions and motives exactly as altruism, but also affection and warmth. Folbre and England contends that that even though caring as a service can be exchanged on the labor market, it is still valued as less than other types of work. As with self-regulation, neo classical economy sees altruism as a preference, but also here Folbre and England contends that altruism and the capability of care, requires skills. These then in turn requires to be developed.
How are capabilities developed?
In Human Capital theory, capital is considered a “stock” as a long-lasting transformation of the human that focuses on self-investment within the definition of investment as “present cause for later pay-off”. Folbre and England however introduces the notion of “input” instead of investment and uses the transference of capabilities between parents and children as an example for why this is. This is then also used to argue for the notion of altruism in the caring capabilities, where parents act in supporting ways for the child to benefit, without getting anything out of it themselves. They are teaching the children skills that the children will use independently of the parents.
Why are capabilities important for society?
Folbre and England contends that capabilities are dependent on social embeddedness and as such exists as a social capital. They claim that as well new as traditional economics “underestimated the social and political nature that effects which children will have their capabilities developed the most” and that as such that “resource constraints should not be ignored.” What this means is that an assumption in neoclassical economic thinking (that which our world systems are based upon) is that everyone intrinsically have ‘equal opportunities’ to develop skills and capabilities. Folbre and England highlights the fact that the conditions we are born into determines to an utmost extend what opportunities we have to learn and develop skills and capabilities. These conditions are created through a political and financial system that in turn is created by us as human beings. Who and what we live as human beings is something we decide individually and collectively interdependent. The same goes for the capabilities that we support the development of, in ourselves, in our children and in society as a whole.
It is a Matter of stopping the Mind
For a long time physical work has been disregarded as “crude” and “simple”. This is reflected in how people that primarily work with the physical receive a much lower wage than those working in (and as) “mind-jobs”. When our children are sent to school, one of the primary points they are too learn, is to disconnect the mind from the body and use the body as a tool for the mind to expand, for example in sitting still and listening to the teacher and suppress the body’s urge to jump or sing or move. In all educational policies, it is thus the cognitive capabilities that are prioritized which can be seen in how all forms of craft classes and sports are minimized and cut back. But if we look at what it is the children are learning about the world, that which they are supposed to learn, to enable themselves to live as effective human beings, it is all in the head. They are expected to grow up and direct their physical world and reality, from within and as the mind, while the body remains a mere vehicle, a tool. In very few schools do children learn about their own bodies or how their bodies feel.They do not learn how to cook, clean or care for animals.
They do not (at least not effectively) learn how to interact with nature, with animals or with the bodies of other children and adults. Instead they learn to disconnect themselves from the physical, to use the body for competitive sports or transportation and as they grow up, they are expected to know how to move and care for their bodies, without actually being in (contact with) their bodies. They might learn about health regimes and that milk is good for you, but they don’t learn to feel in their stomach when some food is not supportive for them. They do not learn to touch or support themselves or each other in ways to alleviate pain or simply for enjoyment. We can draw a straight line from how the physical is disregarded in the current education system to how the state the world currently is in. What thrives is mind-based designs and constructs at the expense of the physical world – the real world – in which and as we live and which we cannot live without. The aspect of physical functioning thus reaches beyond learning basic skills of buttoning buttons – it involves caring for the entire planet as well as for ourselves and each other. A Destonian perspective on education will thus focus exactly on the physical, on us getting out of our heads and into the physical to actually learn to care and nurture ourselves, our bodies and the planet.
Learning is not fun in a capitalistic system
According to Folbre and England, self-regulation and discipline is both a preference and a skill. It becomes a preference when we discover the joy of completing a task or in learning something new. But as education is designed in the current system, a sole emphasis is on the skill aspect of self-discipline, where we are skilling ourselves to be able to compete with others on an unstable job market. The competition is based on fear of not survival and in many countries that is what enables children to remain disciplined – not because they are enjoying what they are learning or perfecting themselves within it. Furthermore, the way education systems are designed, children and adults are most often running on tight deadlines where text books have to be consumed with the speed of light and there is absolutely no focus on disciplining oneself for the sake of self-enjoyment. Furthermore: those of us who has had teachers that enjoyed teaching and teachers that did not, know that there is a lot more to learn from a teacher that enjoys what they are doing. But how can we expect teachers to enjoy themselves, when they get placed close to nothing and are stuffed into a small room with 40-60 students, disconnected and high on sugar and an old curriculum to teach from?
A Destonian perspective is that learning is about expanding and exploring oneself, alone and together with others – teaching is about standing as a living example, not a regurgitator of indoctrinating brainwash that only has the purpose of creating stupid obedient consumer slaves. Furthermore: learning is physical and education, both physical and cognitive could be developed in a variety of ways that incorporate physical learning – if only the focus was on developing capabilities that are best for all as well as the individual in a setting that is not based on fear of not surviving, but instead on self-expression, dedication and openness. If self-discipline is taught without self-consideration or direction, we educate followers that will create secret inner lives where they can live out their desires, we create workers that only do exactly as much as they have to for then to go home and leave the rest to someone else – instead we can educate ourselves (and the children) to develop a self-discipline that is based on dignity, on self-integrity and on doing what is best for all, simply in seeing the basic common sense in that principle – because the world-systems are based on equality.
Caring is Equal Money For all
A mentioned by Folbre and England, the caring sector is highly underpaid compared to occupations that favor cognitive capabilities. This includes teachers, nurses and all other professions where it is the care for other humans (and animals) that is the primary work function. What this means is that Care in itself is highly under-prioritized in our societies, something that can clearly be seen in the many cases of negligence and lack of funding in many care facilities. We are as a species underdeveloped in our ability to care for others (as well as ourselves and the planet). Care as a capability is furthermore a physical act, that one can do even if one does not get something out of it – this is also why there are still people volunteering and working in these positions even though they get no or little pay for their work. Obviously there is in this, a dimension of self-interest, in that a person in a care position can get something out of defining themselves as ‘carers’, something we shall come back to. However there are also people who place themselves in such positions, because they can see that it is of benefit for the group or individual they are working with or because they can see that it is best for all.
We live in a world that does not prioritize what is best for all – that in fact demotes the people who work for what is best for all, and as such stand in direct opposition to creating a world (and an education system) that is best for all. By implementing an Equal Money System that in fact is Best for All, caring will be a basic fundamental priority as it is embedded directly into the very notion of what is Best for All and in the practical policies developed therewith. Another important point here to mention is that care work traditionally has been women’s work. And in that is thus also an intrinsic degradation of women, instead promoting only a patriarchal system that emphasizes traditional masculine values (note: not the values of males) that essentially is based on competition and war. By bringing caring into the forefront of a political and economic (and educational) system, we can no longer deny or ignore the suffering of others. We can no longer justify the exploitation of some for benefit of others. We can no longer push and pressure ourselves to only excel and not consider the consequences of our thrusting through the earth. Finally we no longer need to compete, deceive and fight each other to survive.
Altruism and Self-Interest
Folbre and England mentions that children begin developing capabilities even before such a point as “self-investment” even emerges. In this, adults are required that are able to act in ways that are not based on self-interest with then as mentioned conflicts with the rationality of neoclassical economy. A critical (Destonian) perspective on this is that when parents support children to develop specific capabilities, they are in fact acting in self-interest as they see the children as reflections of themselves; thus how ‘successful’ the children become, will reflect back on the parents as ‘successful parents’ and as such ‘successful individuals’.
This shows how altruism is difficult to apply and questions whether such an application is even possible. According to the neoclassical economists, it is not. In relation to care work Folbre and England emphasizes this capability as one that benefits all and as such is best for all. Within this they bring up an interesting perspective, that there perhaps are other ways to make care work more valuable for society and in this they wish to challenge neoclassical definitions of human capital. Instead they suggest collective strategies for example within using taxes or policies to create inputs that emphasizes care as a capability.
Humans self-interested by nature but that does not mean we cannot educate ourselves to change
Neither acknowledging altruism as inherent (or at least emergent in how parents support their children to develop capabilities) or in the neoclassical theory of rational self-interest is common sense applied.
Therefore an amalgamating perspective is required in an understanding that in spite of self-interest being pre-dominant in human beings, policies and education (as developing skills and capabilities) can be applied to support the development of capabilities currently defined as ‘altruism’ and ‘care’, without expecting that parents do this because of some innate altruism. Through basing policies on principles that are created to implement solutions that are best for all, will support an actual emergence of altruism. In this, if all live in a way that is best for all, an application such as altruism will not even exist, as it exists directly in opposition to ‘self-interest’. If all are educated, skilled and capable of supporting what is best for all, practically speaking, the concept of altruism will be redundant.
In the development of an Equal Money System, we are researching and developing policies based on the practical and physical capabilities that each human being requires to live a dignified life and the implementations of such policies in our society, based on what is Best for All at a practical, physical level. It is open for anyone to participate, who are willing an interested in creating a world, where children can thrive and learn how to support themselves and the earth to live a life of self-expression, dignity, care and enjoyment – a life that in all ways will be best for all. Join us at the Equal Money Forum, on the Destonians Network, join the Desteni Group on YouTube and Facebook and partake in making this Earth a heaven for the Children to come.
“The Equal Money System have as Goal to Educate prospective parents with the skills and understanding necessary BEFORE a child is Born to make sure that the Child have every opportunity of an excellent Life and the required Base foundation as example of what it means to give as you would receive with a dedication to care for Life in all ways. We are what we are taught form Birth and changing our Beginning Here will change Human Nature. We all know this, yet we continue to ignore what can be changed” Bernard Poolman
[i] As a critique of Folbre and England’s theory, I suggest considering the emerging trends in sociology of sociology of body and sociology of sports. Because the paper is written in 1997, a certain progression in development of the field must be taken into account, but it is interesting to consider that there in fact has been some movement on this point in social science.