Human Capital Variable

We call the extra output that we get from one more unit of an input, holding all other inputs fixed, the marginal product of that input. For example, the extra output we obtain from one more unit of capital is the marginal product of capital, the extra output we get from one more unit of labor is the marginal product of labor, and so on. Physical capital and labor hours are relatively straightforward to understand and measure. To measure labor hours, we simply count the number of workers and the number of hours worked by an average worker. Output increases if we have more workers or if they work longer hours. For simplicity, we imagine that all workers are identical. Aggregate differences in the type and the quality of labor are captured in our human capital variable. For physical capital, we similarly imagine that there are a number of identical machines (pizza ovens). Then, just as we measure labor as the number of worker hours, so also we could measure capital by the total number of machine hours. [2] We can produce more output by having more machines or by using each machine more intensively. The other inputs that we listed—human capital, knowledge, social infrastructure, and natural resources—are trickier to define and much harder to quantify. Economists have used measures of educational attainment (e.g., the fraction of the population that completes high school) to compare human capital across countries. [3] There are likewise some data that provide some indication of knowledge and social infrastructure—such as spending on research and development (R&D) and survey measures of perceived corruption. The measurement of natural resources is problematic for different reasons. Land is evidently an input to production: factories must be put somewhere, and agriculture requires fields and orchards, so the value of land can be measured in principle. But what about reserves of oil or underground stocks of coal, uranium, or gold? First, such reserves or stocks contribute to real GDP only if they are extracted from the earth. An untapped oil field is part of a nation’s wealth but makes no contribution to current production. Second, it is very hard to measure such stocks, even in principle. For example, the amount of available oil reserves in an economy depends on mining and drilling technologies. Oil that could not have been extracted two decades ago is now available; it is likely that future advances in drilling techniques will further increase available reserves in the economy.

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