Social investment refers to policies that aim at fostering human capital accumulation or preservation for their beneficiaries. The concept can be applied to markedly different policies such as early childhood education and care, reducing class size, preventing high-school dropout, youth protection, support, and training for job seekers or access to health coverage. The application of socio-economic calculation to social investment, currently very limited, would be especially useful because these policies can be quickly reconfigured based on evaluation results ; this is not the case for a physical public investment (a school, a hospital, a road, a prison, etc.).
France Stratégie publishes a report on this issue, with two main conclusions :
- There are no structural obstacles to applying socio-economic calculation methods to social investment. Precisely like an infrastructure project, a social investment affects society over a distant horizon - and for some non-monetary outcomes – that must be monetized and discounted.
- The application of socio-economic calculation to social investments faces the difficulty of estimating the gross effects of these policies, even before monetization and discounting. Often diffuse and heterogeneous within populations, these effects can often prove more complicated to anticipate than the impact, say, of a new transport infrastructure.
This difficulty can lead to the promotion of field randomized trials, and the generalization of longitudinal data for beneficiary populations to improve knowledge of the long-term effects of social investment policies. It is also desirable to conduct systematic literature reviews to identify the effects recorded for similar policies, as well as to carry out meta-analyses to calibrate the parameters of simulations necessary for a socio-economic assessment.
From now on, education policies are among the most invested fields, certainly the richest in quality evaluations both in France and abroad. These would benefit from being supplemented by socio-economic assessments, which requires the development of a methodological guide that proposes specific reference monetization values.