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

By Cathie Jo Martin | Go to book overview

ONE
BUSINESS AND THE POLITICS OF
HUMAN CAPITAL INVESTMENT

SOCIAL-WELFARE interventions in the United States are commonly thought of as minimalist efforts to protect the destitute from the ills of abject poverty. Social programs are for the nation something like private charity for families: discretionary spending that often declines when we ourselves hit hard times. But this view neglects a subset of social policies designed to encourage investment in human capital. These policies (directed toward training, health care, and helping employees reconcile work and family) are designed to help workers cope with technological change and improve productivity.

The central problem of this book is to investigate when, why, and to what end business managers decide to support human capital investment policies. Thus the focus is on companies' endorsements of public policy solutions rather than on their private social benefits. Because corporate attitudes differ among firms and across policies, the critical question is, when do managers come to support public policy to increase investment in human capital? How do companies choose between competing economic visions? When do managers believe that these policies will contribute to economic growth?

A premise of my investigation is that business managers favor a social policy when they believe it to be in their interests. Corporate leaders with a social agenda have not abandoned the profit motive; indeed, they are just as eager for economic prosperity as their peers. They simply have the view that government can play a role in creating conditions favorable for economic growth. Specifically, they believe that selective social policies can be an asset rather than a liability to productivity and competitiveness. Thus it is important to understand the factors influencing how managers perceive their interests and options.

The book's primary thesis is that managers are more likely to support policies enhancing investments in human capital when their organizations bring them into contact with the noncorporate world of policy analysis, where they are likely to encounter more positive views of government policy than they do in exclusively corporate circles. Centrist and liberal academics, think tanks, and foundations envision a connection between government policies to foster human capital investment and economic

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