Book Discussion: Human Capital by Laura Robson

Photo Courtesy: Verso Books



Human Capital is a story of how global humanitarianism has turned refugees into cheap labor.



Laura Robson reveals the dark heart of our purportedly humanitarian international regime. Tracing the century-long history of attempts to remake refugees into disposable migrant labor, she elucidates global humanitarianism’s deep-seated commitment to refugee exploitation and containment.


Robson surveys more than a hundred years of policy across the globe and captures the travails of Balkan refugees in the late Ottoman Empire, Roosevelt’s secret plans to use German Jewish refugees as laborers in Latin America, and contemporary European efforts to deploy Syrians as low-wage workers in remote regions of Jordan.


The rise of internationalist refugee aid has often been told as an inspirational story in which reformers fought tirelessly for a system that would recognize and guarantee the rights of displaced and dispossessed people. But as Robson demonstrates, the motives behind modern refugee policy can be mercenary. Refugees have become easy prey for global industrial capitalism.



Laura Robson

William L. and Donna F. Oliver-McCourtney Professorship in History, Penn State University



Fatma Müge Göçek

Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan


Robert M. Hayden

Professor of Anthropology, Law, and Public & International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh



Soumava Basu

Soumava Basu

President and Founder, CGC


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