A White House adviser has triggered a wave of memes and mockery online after referring to US labor force as “human capital stock,” drawing countless comparisons to the dystopian sci-fi flick Soylent Green (spoiler: it’s people).
In calling to reopen the US economy amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in an interview with CNN on Monday, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett noted that the country’s “capital stock” was still intact, adding that “our human capital stock is ready to get back to work.” Though the comment was meant to express a simple idea, Hassett’s jargonistic wording conjured up much darker imagery for many netizens, who immediately saw parallels to Soylent Green – the 1973 thriller in which human beings are ground up into food to nourish an overpopulated planet.
Human capital stock – but do they provide dividends? Or do we just make Soylent Green? Investors want to know. https://t.co/kNBXXzd5Cr
— Eve Fisher (@EveFish28015553) May 25, 2020
“Wtf is ‘human capital stock?’” one netizen asked. “Is it akin to Soylent Green?”
— VickoRano (@vickorano) May 25, 2020
— Oscar F. (@VennD68) May 25, 2020
— 𝕋. 𝔻𝕠𝕣𝕛𝕖 (@TDorjeArt) May 25, 2020
Another commenter quipped that “human capital stock” would “make up for meat shortages” by the summer, possibly referring to the fact that a series of large food processing plants remain closed due to outbreaks and coronavirus containment policies, which remain in force across a number of states.
Question: How much Soylent Green does it take to feed the human capital stock in a factory running at peak efficiency? pic.twitter.com/JOzwvekpFr
— stonecircle (@stone_circle) May 25, 2020
Some critics took up more serious responses to Hasset’s remark, arguing that his choice of words was demeaning to workers.
“Who refers to working Americans as ‘human capital stock?’” he asked. “Workers are not livestock, they shouldn’t be treated like the ingredients for soylent green. All workers should be treated as essential and not disposable. Provide them with testing, PPE and respect.”
A few skeptics also emerged, however, pointing out that the phrase might be more common than the detractors realize and questioning their outrage – joking that the “Soylent Green mills” won’t come online until 2022 anyway (the year the movie is set).
Blame Trump for a lot, but save your energy. Human Capital Stock is used fairly regularly but today it sets you off? It isn’t a sign Trump is planning on harvesting organs or starting up the Soylent Green mills (that comes in 2022). #HumanCapitalStock https://t.co/QufmSfnWYV
— mmmm…bRisket (@LosBilbilocos) May 25, 2020
The difference between Democrat and Republican is whether you want the future “Star Trek” or “Blade Runner”. “Soylent Green” pic.twitter.com/15DU1QBgJo
— JRasputin2013 (@JRasputin2013) May 25, 2020
Cannibalism jokes aside, with some 40 million Americans out of work amid statewide shutdowns to stem the spread of the coronavirus, food shortages are becoming a reality. A recent study at the Brookings Institution found that childhood food insecurity in the US had skyrocketed to unprecedented levels in April, as greater numbers of families stuck under lockdowns struggle to put adequate food on the table. While a man-made meal replacement is unlikely to debut anytime soon, the real-life scarcities appear set to grind on barring an end to the containment policies.
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