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This paper introduces and uses Lakatos’ idea of research programmes to summarise and critically evaluate academic discourse towards knowledge capital theory. The analysis uses rational reconstruction to formulate the components of the hardcore and protective belt of knowledge capital theory. By critically surveying the literature, it challenges the validity of the claims made by Erik Hanushek, Ludger Woessmann and the OECD that there is a causal link between cognitive development and economic growth. It concludes by stating that knowledge capital theory in its current form is degenerate and should be considered a high-risk research programme and that more sophisticated theories are required to be developed to explain current phenomena.