Stuck in Neutral: Business and the Politics of Human Capital Investment Policy

By Cathie Jo Martin | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

LIKE ALL classic antagonisms—oil and water, day and night, Tracy and Hepburn—business and social policy have little in common at first glance. American managers are known for their suspicion of excessive government intervention. Lockean liberalism permeates our nation's collective political thought and has kept a host of social democratic inventions off the books. The Rube Goldberg quirks of our political system give managers good reason to doubt the efficacy of political interventions. Our weak labor movement has dampened employers' incentives to support social initiatives for shopfloor peace.1

Yet managers have periodically shown an interest in social initiatives to enhance workers' productivity, to ameliorate labor unrest, or to augment demand for their products.2 Today some American managers are drawn to social policies to increase investment in human capital, programs (in training, health care, and child care) considered to increase productivity by improving workers' skills, knowledge, or health.3 Proponents claim that these policies contribute to economic growth; thus growth and equity can be achieved simultaneously.4 As Jerry Murphy of the Siemens Corporation puts it, “Doing the right thing and the bottom line go hand in hand.” Jim O'Connell of Ceridan explains this support for social policies: “Companies not only have a conscience, but in addition there's a profitability motive… and a feeling that companies are pursuing competitiveness.”5

Opinion polls demonstrate that employers are interested in policies to increase human capital investment. Training initiatives to prepare workers for highly skilled jobs have attracted substantial corporate support. Sixty-four percent of a National Association of Manufacturers study were

____________________
1
Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955); David Vogel, “Why Businessmen Distrust Their State,” British Journal of Political Science 8, no. 1 (1978): 45–78; Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream (New York: Verso, 1986).
2
James Weinstein, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State: 1900–1918 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968); Sanford Jacoby, Modern Manors (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Jill Quadagno, The Transformation of Old Age Security (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).
3
Gary Becker, Human Capital (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), 1.
4
Martin Neil Baily, Gary Burtless, and Robert Litan, Growth with Equity (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1993); Otis Graham, Losing Time (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), chap. 4.
5
Interview with Jerry Murphy, May 29, 1996; interview with Jim O'Connell, May 20, 1996.

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