Shifts in global education policy to formalise curricula and make explicit learning outcomes for ever younger children have become popular for a number of countries responding to changes in global market economics. Human capital discourses, broadly aimed at shaping national prosperity, have entered the early childhood education and care policy landscape as somewhat of accepted wisdom. Using the Australian early childhood reform agenda and its accompanying Early Years Learning Framework as an example, this article interrogates two prominent productivity discourses that have permeated the early childhood education space ' learning begins at birth and lifelong learning. We consider the relationship of these discourses to global/neoliberal ambitions for curriculum and question their place in the childcare experiences of infants under 12 months. Drawing on postmodern theory, we examine the complexity of nationalistic ideals aimed at creating platforms for socially just goals, against their potential to promote universalistic notions of childhood and infancy. In problematising the image of a cosmopolitan infant of the knowledge economy, we encourage thoughtful resistance to the reductionist tendencies of economic discourses in early childhood education and claim space for a balance of the personal, democratic and economic dimensions within a vision of the 'best start in life'.