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Before and after school

Almost all the educators and economists who study ``human capital'' (an admittedly unfortunate equating of people with machines) agree it is essential to economic growth. But education isn't strictly the purview of the schools, they say. It is a cultural experience that begins at home.

The better educated the parents, Jacob Mincer of Columbia University points out, the higher their income levels, the fewer their children, and the more they spend on each child's education. That child, in turn, values education more and helps educate the next generation.

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Human capital (educated people) is more important than outright wealth, economists say, since it is the means of acquiring physical capital and of putting it to work. In a resource-poor country such as Japan or the Netherlands this is quite evident.

``While physical plant and equipment can be acquired or built quite rapidly,'' notes economist Mincer, ``the development of a significant and broadly based level of human capital of a nation is a lengthy process which involves profound social and cultural changes.''

Dr. Mincer notes that the industrial revolution originated with the scientific achievements of northwestern Europe in the 18th century ``and spread most rapidly to those areas where educational development has made the transfer of technology most feasible.''

He contrasts the success of the Marshall Plan in a well-educated but physically devastated Europe after World War II with later, largely unsuccessful efforts to aid developing countries.

``Only widespread educational growth,'' he says, ``especially at basic levels of literacy and numeracy, can lead from islands of modernity to a complete transformation of the economy.'' And he concludes: ``Growth and diffusion of human capital appear to be necessary to ensure sustained economic development.''

American educator Horace Mann saw education as able to ``change a consumer into a producer'' and to ``increase the producing power.''

As Mann put it: ``Nothing but universal education can counterwork the domination of capital and the servility of labor. For the creation of wealth - for the existence of a wealthy people and a wealthy nation - intelligence is a grand condition.''

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