Let’s put the World Bank’s new ‘human capital rankings’ in a Game of Thrones-like lens. In this scenario, the World Bank is Septa Unella, the follower of the High Sparrow who strips Cersei Lannister and trots her throughout the city as she rings a bell and beckons a ceaseless, nightmare-inducing chant of “shame! shame! shame”. Continuing with the metaphor, Cersei is basically all of Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as other nations around the world who haven’t made adequate “investments in health and education”.
With the announcement and explanation of the human capital rankings, it’s tough to understand why the World Bank is, essentially, shaming poor nations for being poor, though there are some plausible reasons behind the existence of such rankings. The rankings come as a critical facet of the World Bank Groups’ Human Capital Project, which they’ve described in quite simple terms for the curious on their website.
‘Welcome to the Human Capital Project, a global effort to accelerate more and better investments in people for greater equity and economic growth.’ (World Bank)
The site goes on to pose, in terms that can only be described as condescending, some rhetorical questions, and following statements, that are meant to make clear why the Human Capital Project is so necessary.
‘Why should countries invest in human capital? Can early health care and education prepare children to succeed and prosper as adults in a rapidly changing world?... The cost of inaction on human capital development is going up. Without human capital, countries cannot sustain economic growth, will not have a workforce that is prepared for the more highly-skilled jobs of the future, and will not compete effectively in the global economy.’
So, knowing that human capital is, essentially, an educated, highly-skilled, and in tune with the technologically-imbued, automated future of the marketplace, what will a country such as Eritrea be able to do to realistically compete in the world of tech? After all, not all nations are geographically suited to an education-first approach. Eritrea never has been and never will be a center of commerce – as a nation like Singapore is – and therefore subsistence farming and other ‘less developed’ ways of life are valued more highly.
How could the World Bank possibly change this?
‘The Human Capital Project is expected to help create the political space for national leaders to prioritize transformational human capital investments. The objective is rapid progress towards a world in which all children arrive in school well-nourished and ready to learn, can expect to attain real learning in the classroom, and are able to enter the job market as healthy, skilled, and productive adults.’ (World Bank)
It all sounds good, but how will the fact that many of the poorest nations in the world are also ones plagued by the highest instances of corruption (naturally) be reconciled? There seems to be within the whole Human Capital Project an inference that nations currently without ‘human capital’ don’t wish to have a well-educated populace or simply haven’t cared enough to invest in the development of its people. In a way, that’s true (see: corruption), but in many senses, this perspective is both overly simplistic and condescending.
So, who will benefit from this Human Capital Project? Those at the World Bank Group would say that the citizens of those nations with the lowest ‘human capital’ have the most to gain. But let’s consider more carefully who will also benefit from this initiative. There is the term ‘investment’, which is a centerpiece of the entire initiative. In order to invest, funds will be required. And who will provide them? The World Bank, of course.
And how well has that worked for recipient nations to date?
‘The World Bank is helping Third World governments cripple their economies, maul their environments, and oppress their people. Although the bank started with the highest ideals some 40 years ago, it now consistently does more harm than good for the world's poorest.
The World Bank's raison d'etre in its early years was to encourage development. Now, the bank exists largely to maximize the transfer of resources to Third World governments. And by so doing, the bank has greatly promoted the nationalization of Third World economies and has increased political and bureaucratic control over the lives of the poorest of the poor.’ (Cato Institute)
Could this, ‘increas(ing) political and bureaucratic control over the lives of the poorest of the poor’, a phrase that translates roughly to ‘power’, be the aim of this whole human capital talk? After all, it is the poorest of the poor nations who are in the crosshairs of the initiative, being publically shamed into accepting more ‘investment’ from the World Bank Group and its financial partners.
Can we reasonably expect the likes of Turkmenistan to compete with Singapore on any educational or technical level? Of course not!
It is a fantastical notion, yet, with enough money this is possible, we’re being told. The race to innovate is constantly moving, and proportional. Even if Eritrea were to somehow rid itself of corruption, put new funds toward education, and make strides, a nation such as Singapore is almost certain to be making twice, three times, or ten times as many in the same time frame. The rate of innovative acceleration in Singapore is simply too fast compared to those who are already many lengths behind.
So, instead of calling a tortoise a hare, why not call a spade a spade? At least, that way, already-poor nations won’t up with more debt, more broken dreams, and more false hope. It seems the far more compassionate route, ‘human capital’ be damned.