human capital market

Wei Dai (
Fri, 13 Feb 1998 13:47:43 -0800

Why canŐt I call my broker today and tell him to sell 100 shares in my
future income stream? Economics tells us the problem is information and
incentives. Potential investors in my human capital donŐt have enough
information about my potential income, and it is too costly to monitor my
activities to make sure that I will work hard and pay the dividends on
time and in full.

As tracking, communication, and monitoring technologies continue to
develop, these problems may be overcome and a human capital market
develop. People would be interested to sell their human capital to
diversify their investment portfolio or because they have a high discount
rate for the future. While this should make the economy more efficient and
everyone better off, it could also increase the inequality of wealth in
society. One reason the level of inequality in our society now is not
higher is that the government subsides and forces self-investment in the
form of education, and the market does not allow people to sell off that
investment. If people are able to sell their human capital, then some
might be tempted to trade an expensive lifestyle now for poverty in the
future. (In some sense they can already do that with credit cards, but an
efficient human capital market would allow them to do it to a much greater

One reason extropians might be interested in the development of a human
capital market, besides that it give people choices they didnŐt have
before, is that it may allow greater investment in human capital in a
scenario where this is especially risky. For example, suppose people
expect that there is an even chance of cheap AIs developing in the next
ten years. If that happens they will lose a lot of their income potential
as the AIs compete with humans in the labor market. If a human capital
market did not exist, this would lead people to substantially reduce
education and other forms of human capital investment in order to
diversify into (say) AI company stocks or physical resources. A human
capital market would allow the level of human capital investment to stay
at more efficient levels (although it would still be lower than if there
was no chance of AIs developing).