Emily Ratajkowski is both capital and capitalist

Nov 12, 2021

The supermodel Emily Ratajkowski has written a book.

It is called “My body”. It’s just out and it’s being discussed A LOT.

Some people see it’s a memoir of a straight white woman complaining about how difficult it is to be extremely beautiful

Others read it as feminist text on the objectification of women.

There is a scene in the book were Ratajkowski is getting paid to go on a holiday to the Maldives. There she has something of an existential crisis because her job during the week is to stage “spontaneous” holiday snaps (largely of her own bum). The photos are intended to attract more guests to the hotel which is owned by very rich men. Why is Emily Ratajkowski (someone who supports the radical politics of Bernie Sanders) doing this?!

That’s what she ponders.

She looks at the other guests at the resort and says to her husband that they are of a different kind.

What kind?

Well, they are “the real rich”.

The husband doesn’t get it.

- C’mon baby, you are a capitalist too, he says.

She doesn’t agree and gets annoyed with him.

All of this made me think of something the economist Gary Becker said in his Nobel lecture in 1992.



Professor Becker had famously written a book called “Human Capital”.

The concept of HUMAN CAPITAL refers to the abilities and qualities that people have that make them productive in the economy. If you are a business leader you can choose to invest in new and better machines but you can also invest in your staff (by sending them on a course or teaching them a new skills). That’s investing in HUMAN CAPITAL and today we think of it as a pretty obvious idea.

What Gary Becker said in his Nobel lecture was that, back in the 1960s when he wrote the book, he had hesitated for quite some time before calling it “Human Capital”.

-In the early days many people were criticising this term and the underlying analysis because they believed that it treated people like slaves or machines.

It was considered inappropriate (even in the not-very-Bernie-Sanders-like-circles that Gary Becker moved in) to talk of humans as “CAPITAL”.

Humans were no such thing! To even hint at it was DEGRADING.

What Gary Becker enthusiastically noted in his Nobel lecture was:

- My, how things have changed!

That was in 1992.

Today we have the generation that Emily Ratajkowski is part of. They are EXTREMELY used to thinking of themselves in economic terms. As Ratajkowski says about her book:

“This is a book about capitalism. I just have an asset that I traded on that was specific, and I think most women do. Even if it’s in your marriage”.

The ASSET that she is referring to is sometimes called “erotic capital”.

We could split it up like this:

Capital - what you own.

Human capital - what you know.

Social capital - who you know.

Erotic capital - how attractive people find you.

But what happens when we think of ourselves like this?

For once it raises the question that Emily Ratajkowski and husband discuss on the beach VERY hard to answer: who is really a capitalist?

If a human is not just a human (WORKER or CAPITALIST in the old economic story), but is simultaneously the possessor of different forms of CAPITAL, whether that’s “human capital”, “social capital” or in the case of Ratajkowski “erotic capital”, what does that make you?

Well… you are both the machine and the owner of the machine! You turn into both the capitalist AND the capital.

Exploitation is certainly happening but the crux is… you are doing it to yourself!

There is nobody to blame!

And no place to escape.

Happy Friday!


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