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The state of technological labor resources
August 24, 2007 2:01 AM   Subscribe

Where the Engineers Are - "To guide education policy and maintain its innovation leadership, the United States must acquire an accurate understanding of the quantity and quality of engineering graduates in India and China."
posted by Gyan (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Didn't the Soviets make us look bad? It all depends on what they do. American society is atheistic and liberal so it is bound to fall. China will remain the military powerhouse, but India's non-atheism will perhaps lead it toward the overall #1 superpower spot in 25-100 years.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 2:22 AM on August 24, 2007


American society is atheistic and liberal

Surely you jest.
posted by IronLizard at 2:34 AM on August 24, 2007


Oh, GN.. ha ha! *cheekpinch*

We'd better watch out for Indian doctors and Chinese research teams, as well. America and the Western world in general has so far had the benefit of better general education and better availability of technology, but we'll lose those before long. The company I work for operates in the UK but is mainly based in India, and they're forerunners in their field technically.
posted by Drexen at 2:55 AM on August 24, 2007


To guide education policy and maintain its innovation leadership, the United States must acquire an accurate understanding of the quantity and quality of engineering graduates in India and China.

And then kill them all.

No. It's this:
A key problem is that the United States lacks enough native students completing master’s and PhD degrees. The nation cannot continue to depend on India and China to supply such graduates. As their economies improve, it will be increasingly lucrative for students to return home. Perhaps the United States needs to learn from India and China, which offer deep subsidies for their master’s and PhD programs.
Americans are too married to bachelorhood. Stay in school, kids.
posted by pracowity at 3:01 AM on August 24, 2007


American society is atheistic and liberal so it is bound to fall. China will remain the military powerhouse, but India's non-atheism will perhaps lead it toward the overall #1 superpower spot in 25-100 years.

Flagged as: Huh?
posted by psmealey at 3:53 AM on August 24, 2007


We live in a capitalist society. Is it any wonder that CS enrollments have been declining when we have watched these jobs go overseas? Why spend money on an education if you can't get a job after you graduate?
Also, some have pointed out the fallacy that companies what to hire PhD s or even students with technical masters (they like business master's and tech undergrad degrees though). I think the problem is the commodization of the technical workforce.
posted by gminks at 4:36 AM on August 24, 2007


I was going to link to that UC Davis report too, gminks. At least the FPP article doesn't buy the "engineer shortage" story that the tech companies are pushing.
posted by transona5 at 5:37 AM on August 24, 2007


I want to say, if you go and look at the internal jobs site for the company I work for, they have literally dozens of openings in China and in India. Some of this is due to expanding business opportunities in those regions, yes, but some of it is simply due to the difference in cost of hiring an engineer there relative to here. The word I've heard is that our company can hire three Chinese engineers for one the cost of one in America. I don't know how accurate that is, but it is the offer that is made to managers who have engineering jobs open in the states.

Meanwhile, my company throws a couple US engineers under the bus each year (fires them, I mean) in order to adjust their numbers in advance of quarterly earnings calls. So far I've been more than lucky as I've maintained my job even though I've, as a consultant, been idle for most of the summer.

Sorry, I think I hear my new baby daughter has woken up and is hungry - time to go -
posted by newdaddy at 5:44 AM on August 24, 2007


We'd better watch out for Indian doctors and Chinese research teams, as well. America and the Western world in general has so far had the benefit of better general education and better availability of technology, but we'll lose those before long. The company I work for operates in the UK but is mainly based in India, and they're forerunners in their field technically.

When the best and brightest American students start studying in China and India - and then staying there to build careers - then you can worry.
posted by three blind mice at 6:16 AM on August 24, 2007


I'd say it has a lot to do with cultural values - in China and India, engineers are a big deal, and they make more than they do here, relative to other fields. Here, we tend to deify the businessman, the athelete, and the artist (specifically, musicians and actors.) Engineers are, if anything, third-tier, behind the doctors and lawyers.

Also, at some point we totally forgot how to teach math.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:11 AM on August 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


China will remain the military powerhouse, but India's non-atheism will perhaps lead it toward the overall #1 superpower spot in 25-100 years.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 5:22 AM on August 24


I'm assuming you're kidding. Religion has nothing to do with this.

There is no point in comparing US engineers to China's or India's. The reason electronics are made in Asia is not because they are smarter, it's because the environmental regulations and labor conditions in the US make building state-of-the-art fabs prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies with the most entrenched market positions.

The country's we should be watching closely are the UK and Israel. Both tiny countries with companies and technological innovation well out of proportion to their size. Israel gets more US patents per capita than any other country.

What people should be paying attention to is innovation, i.e. coming up with the idea of what to build. That is a creative question that implicates design and marketing, not engineering.

For example, HDTVs and HD-DVD and Bluray players are products being made outside of the US. According to the conventional wisdom, this is "bad" because Asian countries are getting all the engineering and manufacturing jobs associated with this. But the vast majority of what those devices are used for is to display content made in the US.

A DVD player costs about $30. But a DVD movie costs $20. And you'll buy more movies than you will buy players.

Likewise, computer parts and displays that are manufactured in Asia are commodities. But the programs we run on the computers, MS Office, Photoshop, videogames, etc, are not commodities. They are available only at a premium. I get email ads daily for computers that cost half as much as a copy of Photoshop. Likewise, everyplace on earth apparently has greater broadband access than the US, but Google, Yahoo, Amazon, etc are all US companies and US services.

We need more science and math education, because those disciplines illuminate the world and develop minds that are able to think clearly and consistently in order to identify and solve problems, but just as important, if not more important, is the need for the study of art, music, and literature, to understand the human condition, the fundamental human desires, which ultimately leads people to design the kinds of products or create the kind of content that humans want to use.

In other words, it is not so important to produce more graduates who can explain how airplanes fly. It's more important to produce educated people who understand why travel and exploration are a fundamental human desires.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:12 AM on August 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


India's non-atheism will perhaps lead it toward the overall #1 superpower spot in 25-100 years.

Indeed. If history has taught us one thing, it is religion is the guiding hand that keeps science and technology on track and continuing to improve our lives.
posted by DU at 7:23 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, at some point we totally forgot how to teach math.

Probably we have failed to incentivize learning mathematics in a manner that has remained appealing.

I think this is really a marketing problem more than anything else.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:36 AM on August 24, 2007


I was going to link to that UC Davis report too, gminks. At least the FPP article doesn't buy the "engineer shortage" story that the tech companies are pushing.
posted by transona5 at 8:37 AM on August 24


Tech companies and the government are pushing this story because their interests are the opposite of yours if you are an engineer. They want more engineers in order to make engineers cheaper and more expendable.

Apropos of my earlier comment, there is an important subtext at work here, in my opinion. From the government's standpoint, it should make no difference whether someone makes $40k as an engineer or as a photographer or a game designer. They'll pay the same taxes. $40k is $40k.

But if we step back we understand that the fundamental American question is the people's relationship to their government. From its creation, the American government whatever its form, was seen as a necessary evil. So it was constructed with the understanding that it sits opposed to the people it governs. That's why the American constitution is unique in the extreme lengths it goes to to specify the powers it has and does not have, and also the rights the people have that cannot be abrogated by the government. The entirety of American political history from the close of the Revolution is the waxing and waning of governmental power over the people.

From the government's standpoint, seeing it as an entity opposed to the people it governs, it is better to have legions of engineers at $40k than a random assortment of photographers, designers, artists, writers, etc (the content producers). The former work under extremely controlled and institutionalized conditions - the corporation. This corporation consumes the bulk of the workers day, the vast majority of their week, it provides their family with a salary and with health insurance, and is ultimately the source of their retirement. Working at a corporation, the worker is visibly present or more importantly, visibly absent.

Furthermore, the legion of engineers can be treated by the government as a single entity, because by and large their lives are homogenous. This isn't the case for the latter group.

The latter group is generally outside of control. Certainly those jobs require discipline, time, and oversight, but there is more independence but they are also less supervised and less monitored. Their political interests and motivations are highly idiosyncratic and ill-defined.

But the latter group is more important for us, the people, in the long term. They produce the things onto which we can project meaning and emotional significance: the varied arts, the artfully designed products,or entertainment, etc. These are the things that we seek out in our spare time, that we spend our hard-earned resources to consume. The fact that this is true reveals some deeper human need or desire for these things. People have been painting in caves as long as there have been people, paint and caves. The first stone jewelry is only sightly less ancient than the first stone tools. Every culture on earth has music and dance. Humans have to have these things in their lives to be humans. But there is no deep-seated need to sit in a cubicle all day and pour over charts and figures. For that we have to be very well compensated.

Regardless of the value judgment you place on these things (we should or shouldn't see certain movies or read certain books, we spend too much on X, all irrelevant here) the fact is they are important to people's lives or they wouldn't waste their money and free time on them. And the fact that they are so important renders the people who make them at least as important to the rest of us people as the people who make the tools.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:39 AM on August 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'd say it has a lot to do with cultural values - in China and India, engineers are a big deal, and they make more than they do here, relative to other fields.

I think it has less to do with cultural values, but displacements of traditional supply chains and resulting changing demand for certain skills.

It was not long ago the engineering was a very well regarded and highly-paid field in the United States. Americans excelled in this field during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. When manufacturing started to decline in the 70s, and shifted overseas, demand for qualified engineers waned, and people who otherwise might have been engineers sought careers in the service sector.
posted by psmealey at 7:42 AM on August 24, 2007


At the Pratt School of Engineering of Duke University, we have been studying the impact of globalization on the engineering profession. Among our efforts, we have sought to assess the comparative engineering education of the United States and its major new competitors, India and China; identify the sources of current U.S. global advantages; explore the factors driving the U.S. trend toward outsourcing; and learn what the United States can do to keep its economic edge. We believe that the data we have obtained, though not exhaustive, represent the best information available and can help U.S. policymakers, business leaders, and educators chart future actions.

Except the incomplete nature of their data set is completely irrelevant to the issue. What about these questions:

1. What is the quality of education delivered at the US, Indian and Chinese institutions?
2. What percentage of their graduates have access to the latest technologies?

and finally and perhaps most importantly:

3. How many of the graduates of US engineering programs with access to the latest technology are Indian and Chinese nonimmigrant students who will return to India and China?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:50 AM on August 24, 2007


Soory, I should say, the incomplete nature of their data set makes the data set irrelevant.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:51 AM on August 24, 2007


I think this is really a marketing problem more than anything else.

Damn straight, I'd like to know about certain advanced math but it will be a cold day in hell before I return to a (public) school.
posted by Tzarius at 7:51 AM on August 24, 2007


pastabagel has it right, it more than an emphasis on engineerig and science that's required, its also soft skills that help us understand people in order to create the things they will want to buy. I'd put a self link here to an msm article but the point is already well argued.

I'd go a step beyond it though and say that what is really required are the core humanities subjects taught around the world that seem to have been sliced and diced out of the school system - geography, social science, civics, general knowledge - all the things that go towards helping us understand the wider world we live in, our common humanity and the way different peoples of the world live with different beliefs and ways.

I think that the trend of increasing specialization has its own pitfalls, we need to be looking at ways of creating responsible, sustainable business models that create and add value for employees, customers, the communities they serve. anyway thats another conversation.

Back to pastabagel's comment,
There is no point in comparing US engineers to China's or India's. The reason electronics are made in Asia is not because they are smarter, it's because the environmental regulations and labor conditions in the US make building state-of-the-art fabs prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies with the most entrenched market positions.

The country's we should be watching closely are the UK and Israel. Both tiny countries with companies and technological innovation well out of proportion to their size. Israel gets more US patents per capita than any other country.


I would argue that as engineering declined in response to the increasing offshoring of manufacturing, innovation and design too will decline - without an industrial base from which to understand and learn the feasibility and viability of manufacturing techniques or improvements that come up ad-hoc on the shopfloor, a great degree of learning and innovation is being lost right here at home.

One of the key things about methods such as the Toyota Way are that they focus on incremental continuous innovation across the entire supply chain. While the front end invention, innovation, design are indeed high value and important, imho, like engineering practice they too will shift focus to where the industries are directly.

How will you teach cutting edge engineering practice or manufacturing methods if they don't exist close by? Where will the teachers learn from? Where will they gain practice once the generation who learnt their skills from teh shopfloor up has retired from active teaching or practice? Or will the teachers then be imported from India and China, which most of them are anyway?

Britain is facing its own issues with the decline of local manufacturing and industry, particularly in the design industry and this has been noted by their Design Council.

The other factor is that while the government of the United States might be considered to be a burden to be endured, as mentioned by someone in a comment above, the fundamental aspect of the individualistic free market system means that when global shifts in industry and market forces take place the nations are then not prepared to adapt to these changes.

Singapore is an example where government foresight noted the trend of manufacturing being offshored to China a decade ago, when their economy was dependent on electronic component manufacturing - seeing that their economy would tank if nothing was done, they shifted the focus natiionally towards becoming a knowledge based economy focused on creative services, financial, banking, education and other service related industries in order to make themselves less dependent on manufacturing. today they are still thriving - they study their manpower and workforce needs and attract talent accordingly.

Some amount of big picture planning and strategy is required imho, a nation's economy is no different than that of a large multinational corporation - and can you imagine any MNC staying in business if they didn't plan for their HR needs, train their employees or otherwise respond to shifts in global trade and markets?

Yes this goes contrary to what makes America great and the fundamental beliefs of the nation but I don't know, the more I observe teh big picture the more I think that perhaps some adjustment to this approach might be required.

Today's news notes that not only is Nokia the global market leader in mobile phone sales, almost three times as large a market share as its closest competitor Motorola but that India has become its [and the worlds] second largest market for phones after China. Till date the US has been the world's largest consumer market and so has had that purchasing power as competitive advantage in trade and business, but if this shift, that too in a high tech cutting edge product, is any indicator for the future, then the sheer size of the markets elsewhere will dictate the design and technology of the products. Its inevitable - Walmart can influence the design and packaging etc of products simply because of its buying power and giants like P&G or Kraft have to comply if they want to reach their largest customer base.
posted by infini at 8:17 AM on August 24, 2007


This issue of comparative production rates of engineering students is just one symptom of a much wider cultural malaise. And I don't think we should think of our future competition with China and India through a Cold War lens. In fact, I'm pretty sure that "competition" is a bad framing that will lead only to failure. Demographically, we can't win, and thinking that we will just "out innovate" is naive, just as thinking that we would replace manufacturing with "knowledge work": what we've done is replaced good manufacturing jobs with shitty McJobs, and are now outsourcing even the knowledge worker jobs.

Our current power structure/economic systems don't really give a shit if it's our country that does the innovation. Hell, we don't even really have US companies anyway. They're all really stateless multinationals. Why should they care what the various countries are doing, except insofar as differences can be used to drive down labor costs. As it is with ditch-diggers, so it will be with engineers.

Our collective sense of social Darwinism is stunted--after all, cooperative structures have evolved in nature as well as competitive ones, and social Darwinism properly understood could just as likely mean we might end up in a cooperative "social ecology" with these countries. If we want to survive as a democratic, constitutional Republic we have to take this more nuanced cooperative route. Which is why, looking at our current paranoid, warmongering zeitgeist I am filled with emotions ranging from fatalism (at best) to full-blown despair in the face our an apparent coming Dark Age.

The biggest difference between now and the start of the Cold War is that, then, we were the totally dominant global economic powerhouse with a national culture steeped in the shared values of the New Deal. We were driven by the physical energy of striving immigrants and the moral energy of our best American values as victors in a "just war". Aside from the tensions of the Cold War itself, we faced no other global crises, particularly of natural (as opposed to man-made) origin.

Now, we are facing peak oil, other natural resource shortages, massive disparities in wealth distribution leading to social unrest, and global warming--and instead of using all our wealth to innovate solutions to these problems (and it would take all of our wealth), we are pissing away our resources on stupid military stratagems that will achieve nothing. The stratagems in place are not for the collective good, but benefit only a smash and grab oligarchy that thinks it will be able to walk away to some walled utopia when the whole theocon ponzi scheme collapses.

Meanwhile, our civic culture has become saturated with lard-assification and the general worship of get-rich-quick dumb-asses. Is it any wonder we have a hard time finding US students who want to pursue engineering PhDs when Paris Hilton is a celebrity and frat-boy Nero is our President?
posted by mondo dentro at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


I haven't been to India or China, so I say this with some expectation that my image of how the various cultures in them are modeled is inaccurate.

That being said, I get the impression that those countries lack a certain amount of social overhead that we must partake in, partially due to them having less personal freedom. As it stands, the consumer choices in our culture force us to put a lot of time into determining which is the really the best product for us. We put a large effort into finding the right diets, getting the right car, finding the right doctor. Say you want to buy a house. Countless hours must be put into understanding the financial options behind it let alone all the zoning laws, tax laws...plus if you're not already rich, you'll be putting a large quantity of time into fixing it up and you can't just hack it or you'll violate a safety code.

Our political system and judicial system are equally as conflated. At some inevitable point, each of us will be in some court whether it is permit requirements or actual violations. Again, if you're rich and can simply let someone else deal with it then fine (although that's not a good way to stay rich). Otherwise you're tied up with the bureaucracy for months if not years.

Perhaps in some free time you want to go out and socialize. No one gives a crap about your engineering and math skills. Depending on what your interest is, you better have some entertaining knowledge about music, sports, literature...and with the variety of mini-subcultures we have, if you want a reasonable chance at connecting with someone, you better know quite a bit about a lot of them. In addition to participation in them for continued social involvement. Plus, unless you're in a monolithic rural neighborhood, you better understand the nuances of other's cultures before you get yourself in trouble.

There's an expectation of near total engrossment in a child's life should one get to that point. Anything short of devotion to them is considered bad parenting pretty much across the board.

Most of this is an inevitable consequence of valuable freedoms we enjoy. Yet still I imagine, it prevents a lot of otherwise motivated eclectic geniuses from attaining their true potential.
posted by kigpig at 8:46 AM on August 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


kigpig: that is one of hte most fascinating insights I've read in a very long time, thank you. I'll add a bit of context to what you've said, coming from within the extended familial and social structures of India - that much of the time investment that you point out comes from the need for the individual to run their life alone. While of course this is a sweeping generalization, but for the majority in India [and you can observe it too in Chinatown in San francisco] people live with extended family and social networks - even if they live in a nuclear family home - and in the villages, certainly the village/tribe/clan exists with far stronger links - children are raised by more than just one person, tasks are divided particularly if its a joint family home, children are responsible for their parents welfare - agreed this isn't utopia, such a high context society comes with its own price but the pros and cons do imply a stronger sense of a safety net beyond "every man for himself".

btw, mondo dentro's post is also an excellent big picture view from a different viewpoint.

This is turning into a superb thread!
posted by infini at 9:08 AM on August 24, 2007


Now, we are facing peak oil, other natural resource shortages, massive disparities in wealth distribution leading to social unrest, and global warming--and instead of using all our wealth to innovate solutions to these problems (and it would take all of our wealth)

Everyone faces those same issues though. The last time China dealt with wealth inequality, they had a revolution and millions died. The US has had 200+ years to deal with these issues.

The reason I mentioned the UK is because they are brilliant. The country is tiny with no resources, yet British companies operate everywhere in the world, with British expats scattered across the globe. British people are incredibly creative, innovative, lateral thinkers. All those contest shows on TV? British. Most respected news organization in the world? The BBC, even in former colonies! Most respected scientist in the world? Stephen Hawking, a Brit. Apple's great industrial design? Courtesy of eastender John Ives.

The British succeed because they have, again my opinion, a very liberal approach to education, much like what inifini mentioned. They teach humanities along with math and science. It isn't focused on prepping for jobs. it prepares them for the world in which they will have to live and make a living. There's a difference.

In the case of Israel, I've always wondered if the mandatory Torah studies required of students there (and that jews everywhere go through to at least some extent) teaches a broader, more critical approach to thinking that what kids get in the US in English class.

I don't know what the solution is, or if there is even a collective solution that wouldn't radically alter how kids live their lives in America.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:06 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everyone faces those same issues though. The last time China dealt with wealth inequality, they had a revolution and millions died. The US has had 200+ years to deal with these issues.

True enough. I was aware that I was in apocalyptic rant mode. Indeed, I was musing on how I sounded almost like that lunatic Atkinson. In general am not quite that purely negative!

I stand by my belief, however, that we are thoroughly embracing the ways of empire and that this will waste precisely the wealth (both financial and cultural capital) needed to innovate through the coming period, which almost certainly will be full of global crises.

The British succeed because they have, again my opinion, a very liberal approach to education, much like what inifini mentioned. They teach humanities along with math and science.

Amen. And I say that as an engineering professor. I notice, even within engineering, an increasing trend toward merely technical research with a weak philosophical component, and I attribute this to a decrease in the universal nature of our univers(al)ity education. American utilitarianism has its charm, but our best universities have never succumbed totally to it (even in engineering). Now it appears that many European schools are going toward a more "American" model.

Along the same lines, that we are not teaching millions of our kids to speak Chinese (and foreign languages in general) is one of the more pathetic effects of the American exceptionalism/nativism afflicting our country. How stupid.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:30 AM on August 24, 2007


I think that the larger debate that this thread is a part of is blinkered in no small way by widespread denial. Americans don't want to accept that the power and wealth of the United States is peaking. By and large, they also refuse to accept that there is nothing wrong with this.

Right now, there is a massive flow of wealth from the United States. Nothing exemplifies this better than the current account deficit, which barring a reversal of the current trend, will reach $1 trillion in the near future. The US now finds itself in more or less the financial position of the decolonializing European powers. America can expect slower economic growth, but sensible investment of still very substantial resources should allow Americans to continue enjoying a high standard of living as they are overtaken economically by the ascendant economic powers.

What I want to know is what is wrong with this picture? The United States enjoyed it's position as a global economic hegemony for more than 60 years, and probably has another two decades or so of remaining the biggest player in the world economy. It's now the turn of the new guys, and why not? The Chinese and Indian people have every right to the same standards of living as those living in the OECD nations.

The writing is on the wall, what remains to be seen is if America can invest the remaining imperial dividend wisely. The alternative is to continue squandering the unprecedented wealth history has blessed her with.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2007


The writing is on the wall, what remains to be seen is if America can invest the remaining imperial dividend wisely. The alternative is to continue squandering the unprecedented wealth history has blessed her with.

That summarizes my feeling exactly. So what if it's the end of our empire? England's ended, and did they go back to living in caves?

As Chalmers Johnson points out, we can be an empire or a democracy, but not both. The end of our empire is a precondition for us returning to our constitutional roots.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:51 AM on August 24, 2007


It's somewhat limiting to confine the the discussion of technical resources to just "engineers".

First, in many jurisdictions (eg Canada) "engineer" is a regulated professional designation with specific legal obligations.

Next, many engineering grads work in demanding technical positions that don't necessarily require the professional engineer designation (computer programming, anyone?)... and these positions are often also held by grads in math, physics, comp sci, etc. Or by ambitious dropouts like myself.

Finally, by only discussing "engineers", you miss out on the greater number of technicians and technologists whose training and responsibilities often overlap into the engineering space, and also on the senior members of the more advanced trades (eg machinists) who have the hands-on practical technical knowledge that freshly-graduated engineers do not.

We need to consider these people in this discussion. In particular we need to wonder why the sole focus on engineering grads, and the relative lack of support from industry and government in North America for meaningful apprenticeships and ongoing continuous adult education that could also produce "engineers".
posted by Artful Codger at 11:08 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel, I kindly ask that you cease posting substantial, insightful and informative posts. You make the rest of us look bad.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:56 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nonsense! Most of the posts in this thread meet your description, I'm just trying to keep up.

For example:
Americans don't want to accept that the power and wealth of the United States is peaking....Right now, there is a massive flow of wealth from the United States. Nothing exemplifies this better than the current account deficit, which barring a reversal of the current trend, will reach $1 trillion in the near future.

I wonder if it depends on whose wealth we are talking about. The government is 5 trillion in the whole, but the wealthy in the US are wealthier than every before.

MY frustration has always been twofold. (1) Improving education is cheap. You don't have to spend a lot of capital equipment or new buildings. We have the buildings and the books. It comes down to managing the details of what kids are taught on a daily basis and how they are taught.

(2) I can't stand the implicit patriotism in these kinds of stories "We need more scientists so we can be great". We don't really care about being great if it means being broke or having to work 70 hrs a week. We aren't supposed to be working for the greater good of the country. Free markets, the profit motive, and self-interest, right?

This story is doing the academic heavy lifting for corporations who want cheap high skilled labor. But they simultaneously don't want highly educated labor, because educated thinking people get restless, and that doesn't work in a system that relies on pigeonholing people.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:16 PM on August 24, 2007


>>Now, we are facing peak oil, other natural resource shortages, massive disparities in wealth distribution leading to social unrest, and global warming--and instead of using all our wealth to innovate solutions to these problems (and it would take all of our wealth)< everyone faces those same issues though. the last time china dealt with wealth inequality, they had a revolution and millions died. the us has had 200+ years to deal with these issues./em>

Pastabagel: Imho, the EU is addressing these very issues under an intregrated product policy that shapes their recent directives on the restriction of hazardous substances {RoHS}, Waste from electrical & electronic equipment {WEEE}, Ecodesign of Energy using products - measures that include not only the energy consumed during the use phase but also the ecofootprint throughout the entire supply chain from raw material to end of life; REACH which covers toxic chemicals etc and the next phase will be a sustainable industrial policy - a systems approach to sustainable growth and development.

And its not just do goodism that is motivating these activities but also a healthy understanding of future trends and thus competitive advantage for those companies who proactively begin to design and implement sustainability strategies rather than wait to comply to ratified regulations.

These policies are already beginning to change the way products are being designed and thought of on the other side of the world where they are being made. I don't need to link to any articles to show that China is increasingly aware of the need to address not only her rapid rate of pollution and environmental degradation but also the number of health and safety concerns.

These are not bottom up grassroots efforts alone but also top down policy measures - you speak of the UK highly but keep in mind that they support their competitiveness and industry through their various councils and groups and thinktanks. The UK design council, the National endowment for the arts sciences and technology {NESTA}, british design innovation etc etc are all government supported and funded to provide training, support and knowledge to their industries in order to remain competitive. In fact, the UK DC will be conducting a multidisciplinary study tour next month of HOlland, Denmark and Finland, visiting firms like PHilips and Nokia and numerous universities in order to study and come back and report on what they have found can help their own educational institutions, industry and thus their national competitiveness and economy.

It may go against the american grain to do something similar but there is no overarching body or organisation that is not profit making or connected to some industry or the other that seeks to do the same to increase american competitive advantage with any cohesive strategy or planning. As mondo dentro has pointed out, the generation that built america at the height of its economic power in the postwar boom had a different mindset adn value system than the present day. Pop culture apart, I find Vance Packard most insightful when it comes to understanding the underlying shifts in society adn culture.

And he's right, a "competitive" mindset with the business as war metaphor is redundant in today's world. Every region and economy is allying itself with neighbours and trading partners in order to collaborate and cooperate, particularly to solve global problems that we all face.

Its not just engineers and scientists and research labs - the majority of whom, I'm sad to say, are busy figuring out easier faster ways of destruction of life and property iwth the least amount of effort expended - its also an understanding that we all live on this planet together and 6% of the worlds population cannot sustainably consume 40% or more of the world's resources anymore. The world has changed [expletive deleted] says "continue squandering the unprecedented wealth history has blessed her with." Imho, that was more or less squandered by about 1980, now its squandering everyone else's.

posted by infini at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2007


eek! where did the go?
posted by infini at 12:25 PM on August 24, 2007


This story is doing the academic heavy lifting for corporations who want cheap high skilled labor. But they simultaneously don't want highly educated labor, because educated thinking people get restless, and that doesn't work in a system that relies on pigeonholing people.

Unfortunately after about 10 tries I was unable to open the article. So I can't say for sure if there's something specific in this article or the focus in general of getting better science and math education in America that you think is doing the 'heavy lifting for corporations'.

Because my initial thought is the percentages of engineering corporations versus other corporations is probably substantial, but even within them management, finance, HR, etc account for a sizable portion of the company. Hell, marketing is usually about 1/3 of the budget of a company. And I suspect financial institutions money making power outweighs that of engineers (a number of them usually top the Forbes 2000 list). So if there really was some kind of corporate conspiracy to save money with cheap labor, they'd probably be better off pushing Americans to supersaturate the job market with more accountants, PR spokesman, in general the business class. Engineers or researchers don't get into the high rungs of pay unless they move to management or open their own company.
posted by kigpig at 1:00 PM on August 24, 2007


kigpig - the article is specifically about comparing the number of engineers in the US and elsewhere and the number of engineering grads.

My point was that more and better teaching of science and math is great. But using the number of engineers as a measure of economic health is pointless.

And while execs always make more, some engineers do get paid very well. Ph.D electrical engineers at intel, cypress, and other top companies can make $100k+. The complaint companies have is that these people are expensive because they are scarce. If we produce more, they can be had cheaper.

And the market is already super saturated with business class types. Entry level jobs for business degree grads (not MBAs) is quite low compared to engineers.

It may go against the american grain to do something similar but there is no overarching body or organisation that is not profit making or connected to some industry or the other that seeks to do the same to increase american competitive advantage with any cohesive strategy or planning.

infini - we have these groups. That's what DOE, NIST, NSF, etc are supposed to be doing. In fact, NSF owns the patent on Google's pagerank algorithm.

But they spend the money at the university level, on people that have already decided to study these things, instead of spending the money to figure out how to teach elementary school kids science.

Granted ridiculous trends like creationism don't help as they tend to cast science in an ideological political light that may push people on the margins away. But I think it's more than just a government program that is lacking. Culturally, people don't care about learning or asking why things are.

Do Americans understand how TV's work? Cell phones? Microwave ovens? Do Americans have any idea how a modern display like an LCD or OLED works? How about a digital camera? This is basic intellectual curiosity that is completely lacking, but which a basic science background will explain (at least in principle). And it isn't just science.

That's the limit on innovation, not too few people taking VLSI design at college.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:29 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ph.D electrical engineers at intel, cypress, and other top companies can make $100k+. The complaint companies have is that these people are expensive because they are scarce. If we produce more, they can be had cheaper.

Well, sure. But at that point -- you're making half as much as a doctor or a lawyer and there's still a concerted effort to lower your wages -- you might as well just be a doctor or a lawyer. And private companies no longer fund pure research, the kind that isn't going to result in a deliverable product in the next quarter, at anywhere near the same level that they did in the heyday of Bell Labs and Xerox PARC.

Do Americans understand how TV's work? Cell phones? Microwave ovens? Do Americans have any idea how a modern display like an LCD or OLED works? How about a digital camera? This is basic intellectual curiosity that is completely lacking, but which a basic science background will explain (at least in principle).

That's only one approach to thinking about science. Plenty of great scientists don't care at all about how such things work. From what I understand (and now I can't find a cite for this) American students are very heterogeneous and the median math and science scores are lower than some other countries, but America's best students are as good as anyone else's best, and those are the people who are going to be scientists anyway. Or could be scientists, if the jobs were available.
posted by transona5 at 2:33 PM on August 24, 2007


If somebody recommends you to get a PhD in Science or Technology: Run as fast as you can!!!

Yoyo, PhD in Engineering/Biotech
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:51 PM on August 24, 2007


Sorry but there's a world of difference between "understanding people" and tricking them into buying things. Lets not pretend that the markets have my best interest in mind. We are certainly not trying to make people's lives better, we are turning capital into more capital. In the process of this it might produce jobs or it might produce war, disease, obesity, who knows. That's business. I certainly dont see America breaking away from this for some pastabagel described hippy utopia.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:16 PM on August 24, 2007


damn dirty ape: but it is possible to do so [break away, I mean]. An eyeopener for me was reading The Waste Makers by Vance Packard, where he describes the deliberate and carefully crafted shift towards a credit supported, high consumption lifestyle, quoting designers who designed for style or planned obsolescence [annual car models, fashion clothing, or today's hero, the iPod and its variations] and marketers and behavioural scientists who studied these very things exactly in order to "trick people into buying things". He quotes Theodore Levitt, a strategy guru in B-school case studies, as exhorting businessmen to focus on making a profit and not worrying about what the consequences of their activities would be on people's value systems. He said that wasn't their business or their concern, their concern was simply to make profits and sell more products.

So if advertising and marketing carefully groomed the populace into becoming comfortable with high levels of debt and buying on the "never never" simply to keep the juggernaut of high consumption/economic "growth" going, is it not then possible to begin campaigns to take them back to the values of their grandparents?
posted by infini at 9:04 PM on August 24, 2007


The next Great Depression will take them back to the values of their grandparents. (Great-grandparents, more likely.)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:49 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


So if advertising and marketing carefully groomed the populace into becoming comfortable with high levels of debt and buying on the "never never" simply to keep the juggernaut of high consumption/economic "growth" going, is it not then possible to begin campaigns to take them back to the values of their grandparents?

no, because that's not profitable. the reason it went the way it did is that "disposability" pushes more "stuff" through the system, and people make money on that.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:28 AM on August 25, 2007


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