What’s the value of a human being?

Theodore W. Schultz, Nobel Laureate, 1979


At a glance

Born: 1902, South Dakota, USA

Field: Development economics

Awarded: The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1979

Prize-winning work: Analysis of the role of investment in human capital for economic development, particularly in agriculture


Theodore W. Schultz’s insights may sound obvious to the modern ear, but their genius lay in their simplicity. He had little time for the rich urban elite, believing that since most people in the world are poor, it’s they who should be the focus for economists.

Schultz grew up burning ‘cow chips’ for warmth on a farm in the plain states of the US. His feet were planted firmly in agricultural territory throughout his career, even when Harvard tried to tempt him into a prestigious academic role. But his professional interest in farming folk wasn’t just about staying true to his roots. He understood the economic contribution that ordinary people could make, as long as they were allowed to reach their potential.

What does Schultz's work mean for us?


"If you really wanted to understand the economic lives that most people led, then you needed to take farmers seriously. And that’s what he did.”

Tim Harford
Financial Times columnist and author of
The Undercover Economist


"Schultz is the economist I want to be. Schultz was an economist who lived in the real world. His ideas came from talking to real people."

Paul Donovan
Global Chief Economist
UBS Wealth Management

Theodore W. Schultz on…

Teaching the Prime Minister of India about modern life.

Organized religion.

"It’s very easy to jump to a half-baked conclusion, spend a lot of money – and not get hold of where the source of the problem is."

From Schultz’s personal collection.

Main image: The Enigma of the American Economy.

Top and bottom image: Memorandum about his teaching interests to Prof. Black, 14th Oct 1930.

A closer look at the theory

How did India transform its traditional agriculture?

How did the income structure change in the United States?

How could South Korea explode in terms of earnings?

How is private charity more successful than public foreign aid?

How can we best use the land we don't need anymore for agriculture?

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