By the Numbers


When and why did personnel departments become human resources? “Personnel” comes from person. “Human resources” sounds to me like stuff to be used, used up, and discarded as companies bring in new human stuff to be used up. I hope most companies have better understandings of HR.

In his book, The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen points out that people like to simplify their thinking by assigning a single, supposedly definitive number to a very complex human situation. The single number enables us to pretend to be able to quantify and measure the development of human lives and societies. For example, the Gross National Product (GNP) or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are sometimes assumed to tell the whole story of a country’s status and quality of life. Sen, a Nobel Prize winning economist, discusses how very much of a nation’s life and its quality we cannot tell from the number and how effectively the number can be used to perpetuate injustices by hiding them.

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