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The Mystery of Human Capital as Engine of Growth, or Why the US Became the Economic Superpower in the 20th Century

  • Isaac Ehrlich

This paper offers a thesis as to why the US overtook the UK and other European countries in the 20th century in both aggregate and per-capita GDP, as a case study of recent models of endogenous growth where human capital is the "engine of growth". The conjecture is that the ascendancy of the US as an economic superpower owes in large measure to its relatively faster human capital formation. Whether the thesis has legs to stand on is assessed through stylized facts indicating that the US led other OECD countries in schooling attainments per adult population over the 20 century, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels. While human capital is viewed as the direct facilitator of growth, the underlying factors driving the US ascendancy are linked to the superior returns the political-economic system in the US has so far offered individual human capital attainments, both home-produced and imported.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12868.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12868.

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Date of creation: Jan 2007
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Publication status: published as "The Mystery of Human Capital as Engine of Growth, or Why the US Became the Economic Superpower in the Twentieth Century." In The Mystery of Capital and the Construction of Social Reality , edited by Barry Smith, David Mark, and Isaac Ehrlich. Chicago: Open Court, 2008.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12868
Note: HE
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  1. Psacharopoulos, George & Patrinos, Harry Anthony, 2002. "Returns to investment in education : a further update," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2881, The World Bank.
  2. Isaac Ehrlich & Jinyoung Kim, 2007. "The Evolution of Income and Fertility Inequalities over the Course of Economic Development: A Human Capital Perspective," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 137-174.
  3. Barro, Robert J. & Lee, Jong-Wha, 1993. "International comparisons of educational attainment," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 363-394, December.
  4. Goldin, Claudia, 2001. "The Human-Capital Century And American Leadership: Virtues Of The Past," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(02), pages 263-292, June.
  5. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M & Tamura, Robert, 1990. "Human Capital, Fertility, and Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(5), pages S12-37, October.
  6. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Why Do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output per Worker than Others?," NBER Working Papers 6564, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1988. "On the mechanics of economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 3-42, July.
  8. Isaac Ehrlich & Yong Yin, 2005. "Explaining Diversities in Age-Specific Life Expectancies and Values of Life Saving: A Numerical Analysis," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 31(2), pages 129-162, September.
  9. Isaac Ehrlich & Francis T. Lui, 1999. "Bureaucratic Corruption and Endogenous Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages S270-S293, December.
  10. Isaac Ehrlich & Jinyoung Kim, 2005. "Social Security, Demographic Trends, and Economic Growth: Theory and Evidence from the International Experience," NBER Working Papers 11121, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance John & Todd, Petra E., 2003. "Fifty Years of Mincer Earnings Regressions," IZA Discussion Papers 775, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. Isaac Ehrlich & Kevin M. Murphy, 2007. "Why Does Human Capital Need a Journal?," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 1-7.
  13. Ehrlich, Isaac & Lui, Francis T, 1991. "Intergenerational Trade, Longevity, and Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 1029-59, October.
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