Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 7, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From James Poulos, complaining about fans of globalization:

"My distaste for migrant labor and the hegemony of engineers, each taken separately, is already almost incalculable because of my judgments about what ruins a healthy republic."

The hegemony of engineers? Which parallel universe are we talking about here?

Kevin Drum 5:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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Now he tells me. I shouldn't have let my membership in the ASME lapse.

Posted by: gregor on May 7, 2008 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

The hegemony of engineers?

Yes, secretly we engineers run the world, and have since the days of ancient Rome (pretty good aqueducts, huh?). But the genius of our secret cabal is that we don't flaunt it - we assume middle class incomes and more than our share of middle class job insecurities. This tactic is so successful that I can write openly about it without fear that anyone will believe it.

Posted by: alex on May 7, 2008 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Migration is a human right, or at least it should be.

Posted by: Brojo on May 7, 2008 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

He's probably pissed at engineers because they keep telling him "no, that's impossible for the amount of money you are willing to spend and slightly impractical" everytime he asks for a flying car.

Posted by: Alex on May 7, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Migration is a human right, or at least it should be.

And so too should be the right for migrants to take advantage of the social benefits that members of a society have established for their own well being.

No one should have a right to veto a migrant's right to be a beneficiary of other people's tax obligations. Every impoverished person in the world should have a RIGHT to come here and have their kids educated by Americans, have their medical care provided for by the taxpayer, have us expand the societal infrastructure (roads, sewers, policing, electrical network, etc) because, after all, folks like Brojo think such things are Human Rights and by publicly proclaiming such ideas they get to show us all how much they care and thus they buy for themselves some cheap feel-good points.

Posted by: TangoMan on May 7, 2008 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

According to google (search on "hegemony of engineers") it's a solipsistic universe inhabited by James Paulos alone, with this post and one other and probably several more in the future looking in.

What Alex said. It's how the cabal has survived several thousand years.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on May 7, 2008 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

He might belong to the Ben Stein camp -- "If there were no engineers, there wouldn't have been gas chambers" or some such...

Posted by: e.d. on May 7, 2008 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Hayek distrusted engineers.

http://mises.org/story/2782

He was not so looney to attack scientific education though.

Posted by: lemmy caution on May 7, 2008 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

TangoMan, the differential between mobility of capital and mobility of labor is a problem. Europe is doing an experiment with increasing the later. We'll see how it works out for them.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on May 7, 2008 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Eh, I don't mind the engineers. It's the conductors who worry me.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on May 7, 2008 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

lemmy caution: Hayek distrusted engineers.

Apparently Hayek was very good at constructing straw men based on prejudices he pulled out of his ass. If this is typical of his data free "reasoning", it's obvious that it's a waste of time to read any more of this clown. Thanks for the time saver.

And no, I'm not touchy about this.

Posted by: alex on May 7, 2008 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Hasn't this guy ever seen a Dilbert cartoon.

Posted by: Aaron on May 7, 2008 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Bill Arnold,

TangoMan, the differential between mobility of capital and mobility of labor is a problem.

Capital doesn't require schools for itself and the returns (offspring) it generates, it doesn't require an expansion of societal infrastructure to accommodate its presence.

The mobility of labor, by itself, isn't so much of a problem, it's the combination of mobility of labor and social welfare schemes which causes the problems. A country doesn't benefit by importing, on average, a class of net tax recipients. A country, as a whole, doesn't benefit by privatizing the benefits of labor mobility (the migrant benefits and so too does his employer) but socializing the costs of that migrant. You get your gardening done cheap, so you benefit, so does the migrant who earns more than they would in their home country, and so does the migrant's boss who pays less wages than they would if they had to fill positions with domestic labor. I however don't benefit from the gardening done on your property and I, as a taxpayer, have to pay for the education of that migrant's children ($10,000 per year per student) expand the schools to accommodate them, expand the roads to handle the increased population, cut back on water usage because that migrant is here using local water rather than back in his country using that water resource, there is more pollution that I have to deal with, there is more gridlock on the roads, migrants are disproportionately a burden on public health, etc.

Privatizing the gains and socializing the costs is not a sound basis for public policy.

Posted by: TangoMan on May 7, 2008 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

All the Asian engineers in the US on H1B visas?

Posted by: M. Peachbush on May 7, 2008 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

You know who could help him calculate his "incalculable distaste". An engineer!

Posted by: simplicio on May 7, 2008 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Since this all traces back to a book by Fareed Zakaria (and an excerpt published in Newsweek), it's fair to critique that. Previously I'd thought of Zakaria as pretty reasonable for a MSM journalist, but now it seems like he's vying with Tom Friedman on who can regurgitate the worst globalization nonsense.

From Zakaria's The Rise of the Rest:

America's hidden secret is that most of these engineers are immigrants. Foreign students and immigrants account for almost 50 percent of all science researchers in the country. In 2006 they received 40 percent of all PhDs. By 2010, 75 percent of all science PhDs in this country will be awarded to foreign students.

But that well known journal of the ComIntern (BusinessWeek) has an article The Science Education Myth which states something called "objective facts":

from 1985 to 2000 about 435,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents a year graduated with bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. Over the same period, there were about 150,000 jobs added annually to the science and engineering workforce

And then Zakaria continues:

The potential for a new burst of American productivity depends not on our education system or R&D spending, but on our immigration policies. If these people are allowed and encouraged to stay, then innovation will happen here. If they leave, they'll take it with them.

Yet oddly our great period of post-WW2 innovation (the transistor, integrated circuit, fiber optics, computers, etc.) took place in a period of very low immigration.

What's changed? Oh, that's right, the cheap labor lobbyists from Microsoft, IBM, Intel, etc. have found a great line of bullshit. And uncritical thinkers like Zakaria and Friedman are more than happy to regurgitate what they hear from their good friends.

Posted by: alex on May 7, 2008 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

I think he means by engineers the powers that be [IE Private investment bankers, Wall st and the like]

Posted by: Jet on May 7, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Please, everyone knows that transistors were a virus dropped on earth by little green men so we will destroy ourselves with technology...

/snark/

Posted by: Jet on May 7, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of Vonnegut's "Player Piano" in which he credits 'engineers' with advancing technology to the point of making "the working man" obsolete.

Posted by: charles on May 7, 2008 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Folks, you can bet your sweet booty this statement is some kind of weird thing, and isn't even worth trying to parse.

Posted by: Swan on May 7, 2008 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

"When all is one and one is all,
to be a rock and not to roll.
"
--Jimmy Page & Robert Plant "Stairway to Heaven"

Posted by: Quotation Man on May 7, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Folks, you can bet your sweet booty this statement is some kind of a weird thing, and isn't even worth trying to parse.

Posted by: Swan on May 7, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Which parallel universe are we talking about here?
The Heinlein multiverses, I assume, though it MIGHT be N-Space...
Jay C. Smith

Posted by: Jay C. Smith on May 7, 2008 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

As a member of the CERN team that built the original Web, it sounds like he has us completely right.

I met Tim in 1992 and within a week I pushed Jock Gill who was running the Clinton-Core online campaign to look at the Web.

In those days we were talking about 'disintermediation', or getting round the filter as Bush calls it.

During the siege of Sarajevo we were running a Web server inside the city to help coordinate the civil response - reports of sniper attacks, etc.

But the real engine of globalization is not the Internet, its the 40' shipping container and the containerized multi-modal transport that has caused real shipping costs to drop to less than 1% of 1960s break-bulk rates.

The modern world was built by engineers. And engineers are going to build the replacement.

Where Poulos is wrong is his claim that the American heritage is somehow threatened by this process. On the contrary, engineering built America - and every other state worth a damn.

But where he is seriously wrong is his tedious US exceptionalism. No, sorry, the US does not have an exceptionally unique political system. It is an organic development of the British constitution of the day. Other countries have done similar, many would regard themselves as having done better having avoided McCarthyism, Segregation, slavery, etc.

Unfortunately its the worst of US history that Conservatives tend to consider praisworthy 'heritage'.

Posted by: PHB on May 7, 2008 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

He believes in American Exceptionalism.

Posted by: Matt on May 7, 2008 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Wings Over the World will not take kindly to this.

Posted by: Rick on May 7, 2008 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

TangoMan may or may not have paid enough in taxes to justify his education and use of other public goods. When his ancestors came to the US, did they ever provide enough to justify their use of public goods?

Playing the bandoneón is not necessarily a highly value added skill in the US.

If I can piss off Argentine generals who dropped people into the ocean and then adopted their orphaned children, then yes, those cheap points feel good.

Posted by: Brojo on May 7, 2008 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

He believes in American Exceptionalism.

So do I. I think most of the world takes exception at nearly everything we do. Ingrates.

But the genius of our secret cabal is that we don't flaunt it - we assume middle class incomes and more than our share of middle class job insecurities. This tactic is so successful that I can write openly about it without fear that anyone will believe it.

Funniest thing I've read in months.

Posted by: lobbygow on May 7, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

> Capital doesn't require schools for itself
> and the returns (offspring) it generates, it
> doesn't require an expansion of societal
> infrastructure to accommodate its presence.

Towns left holding the bonds for water plant expansions, sewer and treatment capacity increases, roads, schools, etc when big employers pick up and leave town 9 years into their 25 year obligations, and who refuse to pay the penalties they agreed upon to get the stuff from the town, might disagree a bit.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 7, 2008 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I got it, the engineer is the thing that rules the Cenobites' world in the novels that inspired the Hellraiser movie (or, it's the really gross-looking monster in the original Hellraiser movie).

Good one!

Posted by: Swan on May 7, 2008 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Towns left holding the bonds for water plant expansions, sewer and treatment capacity increases, roads, schools, etc when big employers pick up and leave town 9 years into their 25 year obligations, and who refuse to pay the penalties they agreed upon to get the stuff from the town, might disagree a bit.

Your analogy doesn't really work. The town that funded the infrastructure expansion didn't do so in order to allow capital to earn returns. The town council and the voters don't really care whether XYZ Corp earns a return on its capital. They expanded the infrastructure to make it attractive for employers to come to town and create jobs for the town folk.

To match the form of your analogy in terms of labor migration would involve a scenario where a small town builds a fine upscale home and luxurious office and sets aside funding for private school scholarships and establishes a generous vacation fund in order to lure a physician to set up a practice in their town. After the physician moves on the town is left with a house and office that is has no use for. This analogy tells us nothing about labor migration, rather it tells us something about the pitfalls of market distorting practices.

Posted by: TangoMan on May 7, 2008 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

Engineers do supposedly run China. Hu Jintao is one, as are pretty much all the other high level people.

And China will supposedly soon run the world.

So he's correct, just a little early.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 7, 2008 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

And then Zakaria continues:

The potential for a new burst of American productivity depends not on our education system or R&D spending, but on our immigration policies. If these people are allowed and encouraged to stay, then innovation will happen here. If they leave, they'll take it with them.

Yet oddly our great period of post-WW2 innovation (the transistor, integrated circuit, fiber optics, computers, etc.) took place in a period of very low immigration.Posted by: alex

Indeed, of all the "wrong track" things we have done in the last decades, tech immigration is one of the worst. The US was so strong in technology in the 60's, the talk was of "technology transfer" to aid other nations, and the graduates of the 60's were the best in the history of the US, being the regimented Eisenhower kids of the 50's. Then the cheapo businessmen and their lackeys in Congress decided to target this great R&D machine with hordes of immigrants from the third world, much like the strategy used to in killing the wages of construction workers with a one-two punch of labor busting and importation of illegal alien labor. They really screwed themselves, however, by replacing top US people with third world hacks, and by the late 70's innovation was dead and industry competing on the basis of wages with the likes of China.

Posted by: Luther on May 7, 2008 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK
Yet oddly our great period of post-WW2 innovation (the transistor, integrated circuit, fiber optics, computers, etc.) took place in a period of very low immigration.
'Cause, you know, most of the rest of the world wasn't too fucking busy at the time rebuilding their own countries to spend time developing a post-war infrastructure that could capitalize on technological advancements driven by war-time needs. And well, that GI Bill what's been given some credit for the expansion(creation?) of the US middle class, that couldn't have had much to do with it either. And, say, didn't some of Werner Von Braun's friends stop by for tea?


Posted by: kenga on May 7, 2008 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, for a hegemony of engineers!

Awesome.

Better than a hegemony of miscreants, thugs, trust fund idiots, and greedy sociopaths, which is what we really have.

Posted by: Al Peck on May 7, 2008 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

Pardon me, but beyond James Poulos' goofy comment about the "hegemony of engineers" and his hysterical American exceptionalism, he is basically right.

It is among the most glowing inadequacies of American liberalism that they mistake immigration as an issue of multiculturalism rather than economic. The result is that they support immigration as a "human right" and pride themselves on how open-minded they are. However, make no mistake, America's immigrant explosion is not a result of open-minded policy but rather the importation of cheap labor.

Often these people conclude that laborers do jobs that American won't (John McCain agrees). But outside of a few jobs, many American's would prefer to work in construction (with a decent wage) than a service sector job with little benefits or mobility. And beyond the monetary inadequacy of many native American's jobs, it is just plain false that unemployment is so low and immigrants are just filling a job glut. Unemployment is much higher than our mainstream markers say. Rather than the 4 percent figure we often see, the real rate of unemployment in America is 8 percent; a result of continuous changes to the the statistical formula used. As any reader here might notice (well, probably not) depressed urban and rural areas have massive numbers of labor market drop outs and chronically unemployed. So the argument that we need immigrants is specious and ignores the plight of millions of Americans.

As others have pointed out, the Zakaris/Friedman canard about an engineering dearth is absurd. As most any newly minted and unemployed engineering grad can tell you, there is no lack of engineers but too many, as we continue to import workers through visas. The reason is that Indian engineers are six times cheaper to bring in and ship out. There is no way we can make our engineers 6x more efficient. Many are more able than their counterparts but not 6x.

Liberalism must stop missing the economic forest while glaring at the multicultural trees if it wishes to survive.

Posted by: jeff on May 7, 2008 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

The parallel universe in question is Dilbertopia, not Pointyhaireddystopia like we have here.

And, what jeff said! Liberals need to drop the prissy self-congratulatory feeling about their open arms and start thinking about what happens to us.

Posted by: Neil B. on May 7, 2008 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

kenga: most of the rest of the world wasn't too fucking busy at the time rebuilding their own countries to spend time developing a post-war infrastructure that could capitalize on technological advancements driven by war-time needs.

The British developed the first jet airliner while rebuilding their country.

As far as "advancements driven by war-time needs" the transistor, integrated circuit, fiber optics (oops, did I forget the laser?) had absolutely nothing to do with war-time needs. Perhaps you're thinking of aircraft, nuclear power and microwave technology.

that GI Bill what's been given some credit for the expansion(creation?) of the US middle class, that couldn't have had much to do with it either.

Where did I say that? The GI Bill was one of the greatest things ever done in this country.

Of course nowadays the standard tact is to import guest workers instead. The problem with those uppity citizens and LPR's is that they can just get another job if they don't like the current one. Can't have the hired help doing that, now can we?

didn't some of Werner Von Braun's friends stop by for tea?

Which may be why I mentioned the developments I did, rather than rocketry.

Posted by: alex on May 7, 2008 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

Resistance is futile!!

Well if the earth did not resist you, you would not exist.

Posted by: Jet on May 7, 2008 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

Migration is a human right, or at least it should be.

With lamebrain ideas like that floating around, we bloody well need the hegemony of engineers.

Posted by: Bob M on May 7, 2008 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

We're generating hits for the wrong Paulos

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 7, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

I have worked with design ee's and they were tyrants. They had no understanding of limited resources, opportunity costs or modern manufacturing techniques. Then they back stabbed all of the other employees of our small but profitable little spin off by agreeing to continue to provide engineering design services to the mother corporation so it could be shut down. Engineers are responsible for weapons of mass destruction and all kinds of torture devices.

Posted by: Hostile on May 7, 2008 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Look at this statement he makes:

I’m convinced that the United States has, and depends upon, a globally unique system of government which is itself dependent upon America’s unique geopolitical, cultural, and religious heritage. The maintenance of that heritage demands a conscious effort not to regularize the American workforce into a system of migrant drones at the bottom and civil engineers at the top, two types of people with an affirmative interest in destroying citizenship and unmaking the American character.

He is assuming that the world is entirely a set of economic institutions designed for mass production, and that there is some kind of concerted effort to define everyone into one of two roles, Engineers at the top and migrant workers working for them.

It's a purely Marxist view of an Industrial Society, and he thinks that is what everyone he disagrees with is working to achieve. (Looks like he is the ultimate conspiracy theorist.) He also views everyone who disagrees with him and bases their disagreement on logic as his engineers. Those are the people who use the scientific method to explain society, identify its failures and try to propose solutions. Those are his "Engineers."

In his view, "they" (his engineers) want to relegate workers to that migrant worker role and leave no room for any other role in society. That's what he means by his statement that "some" (who he opposes) are trying to regularize society into only those two roles.

Oddly enough there was a period in American industrial history when this was a decent description of American industrial organizations. The "engineers" were native born Americans who spoke English and the migrant workers were foreign immigrants who did not speak good English. The "Engineers" considered this the way society was meant to be. It could fit in the period roughly from about 1870 to the 1920's. As businesses grew larger and absorbed labor that previously was independent, simultaneously deskilling capable journeyman and making them assembly line workers who each performed a routine semi-skilled job, this did appear to be the new future.

Marx identified this trend and railed against it. Since industrial organizations were growing larger and displacing skilled journeyman workers, that appeared to be the way the future for everyone was going to be.

Among sophomores in college such "thoughts" delivered over a beer at one time passed for deep thinking. (I don't know if it still does.) It looks to me as though he has never gone past the stage of half-drunk sophomoric counter-Marxist "thought" and actually begun to learn to understand things. Needless to say he opposes using the scientific method to describe society so I doubt that he ever will understand what is happening. He will always find opposition to his thoughts.

His view is highly emotional and rejects rationality when it doesn't give the results he is looking for. This highly emotional and very confrontational view was what drove a lot of Fascist thinkers.

I guess there is still a market for that kind of writing.

Posted by: Rick B on May 7, 2008 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK


The hegemony of engineers

Now we fnord have to kill you.

Posted by: joel hanes, engineer on May 7, 2008 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

It's actually the fashion hegemony of engineers. I'm surprised you haven't noticed.

Posted by: RSA on May 7, 2008 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Lemmy Caution

"Hayek distrusted engineers."

Engineers and their brothers the economists always succeed by focusing on, carefully measuring and predicting the results of smaller and smaller details. Such workers require the support of large organizations to succeed, and large organizations are always created by people who are successful politicians (in the broad sense.) Politicians get large groups of people organized to accomplish a job. [It is a mistake to consider the term "politician" to apply only to those who run for political office. Those who succeed in bureaucratic politics are no less politicians.]

Engineers, economists and most Lawyers are dangerous people to have running large organizations. Their professional training does not suit them to getting organizations of people to accomplish large jobs.

In the military this distinction between professional expertise and the political skills needed to get large organizations to accomplish something are the real distinguishing characteristic between Officers up to the rank of Colonel or Navy Captain and the more political ranks of General and Admiral.

Hayek was right not to trust engineers. I'd add lawyers, CPA's, bankers, and especially economists.

Posted by: on May 7, 2008 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an engineer, and as much as I hate to admit it, I agree with Poulos. Most fellow engineers I've worked with lack appreciation for the liberal arts and don't embrace civics. I think Poulos is saying that technocrats make poor caretakers of the Constitution, civil rights and other cornerstones of the American Way. In other words, engineers tend to be Republicans.

Posted by: Elliott on May 7, 2008 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Jay C. Smith,

"Which parallel universe are we talking about here? The Heinlein multiverses, I assume, though it MIGHT be N-Space... Jay C. Smith"
Don't forget that Heinlein was an engineer and a graduate of the Navy trade school. No diploma, just a certificate in 1927. Posted by: Rick B on May 7, 2008 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Hayek was right not to trust engineers. I'd add lawyers, CPA's, bankers, and especially economists.

Wha-?

Posted by: Swan on May 7, 2008 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

My experience in science & engineering is that these foreigner immigrants are pretty good workers. At least for my boomer generation, just behind the cream of the crops 60's, the entry level science & engineering jobs were still available to domestic expertise. In my experience these immigrants have higher degrees, so contrasting their numbers with the total science/engineering graduates in the US is not valid, as the later statistic is dominated by terminal undergrad degrees. At least as far as the overall competitiveness of the US economy, the economy has been a big winner from all of the imported talent. The two corps (both international leaders in their field), I worked for had substantial percentages of foreign workers in the home office, but an even larger percentage of our revenues were foreign as well. It only makes sense for global businesses to compete globally for the best talent, as well as for markets. I've always felt my own technical career had considerably greater opportunity precisely because of the contributions of the foreigners.

Elliot is right. Few engineers know much about leading people etc. Most have pretty narrowly focused and boring personalities. Scientists and engineers for the most part are quite different groups of people. Scientists usually are more well rounded.

Posted by: bigTom on May 7, 2008 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

This is the best description of how globalization works that I have seen is a short statement.

The problem with conservatives is that they think that the use of such technology somehow makes Americans better than non-Americans and that the American elites somehow made this happen.

America is a great place to live, but that is mostly luck. We lucked out that the "organic development of the British constitution of the day" matched up with the great natural resources of the Eastern U.S. Put that together with the East Coast ports and the outstanding natural waterways that exist east of (and including) the Mississippi. We also had the mercantile preindustrial culture that had developed in Great Britain. All of this, along with the free land created by the depopulation of North America by European disease introduced when Europeans invaded, created the most productive economy in the world by about 1900.

It helped greatly that we also received the results of the 1688 Glorious Revolution which established the Separation of Church and State (after two centuries of religious wars.) We didn't waste resources fighting religious wars the way Europe and England did. Also our trade was protected by the British navy.

It also helped that after WW I the European industrial nations were destroyed and their overseas investments had been liquidated to fight the war, then after WW II the U.S. was the only industrial economy in the world that was not destroyed by that war. During most of the early twentieth century the U.S. had no real industrial competition.

None of that was things Americans did. We simply lucked out, and our elites considered themselves geniuses.

Posted by: Rick B on May 7, 2008 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

Anybody who has both Megan McArdle (Hah, Kevin, hadn't had a chance to mention her name here yet this week) and Adbusters on his links list is a fruitbat.

(Adbusters is a bunch of unemployed graphic artists putting together a magazine under the guise of protesting globalization and seeing how pseudo-creative they can be in the process. In other words, a pretentious, ostentatious pile of crap, with pages too rough to use in the crapper.)

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 7, 2008 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

Big Tom,

Quite right. It is those narrowly focused individuals who tend to be Libertarians, also. Notice that Ron Paul is a physician, another of those narrowly focused professions. And the distinction between engineers and scientists is an important one.

Posted by: Rick B on May 7, 2008 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

Preventing the pauperization of the American workforce is best prevented with wage control laws and compulsory universal education. The denial of entry and discrimination of foreign workers willing to perform migrant labor means the business community plans on using the children of Americans opposed to foreign migrants in future for that kind of work. The denial of entry of foreign workers combined with the degradation of public education, through vouchers, charter schools and the NCLB fiasco, means the strategery is already in effect. Americans think they are saving pubic revenues by denying migrants the right to travel and work, but they are condemning their own children to a life of drudgery without hope, as even those types of jobs will become precious.

Posted by: Brojo on May 7, 2008 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

He bills himself as a postmodern conservative. I guess this is the sort of thing you should expect when you tape Bill Kristol to the back of Jacques Derrida.

Posted by: Paul Camp on May 7, 2008 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK

The denial of entry of foreign workers combined with the degradation of public education, through vouchers, charter schools and the NCLB fiasco, . . .

I'm sorry, I find it difficult to type while experiencing fits of hysterical laughter.

Posted by: TangoMan on May 8, 2008 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

Me thinks you need to go back and read Robert Reich's The Work of Nations. However, if the guy isn't using engineers as a general term for the exceptionally well-educated folks at the top of the economic/employment food chain but really means garden variety engineers, then he is full on bat shit crazy.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 8, 2008 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

Having worked with and being managed by engineers and a couple of scientists over two decades I could agree with some of these observations. The more "well-rounded" ones did wind up in management positions. However, what profession isn't "narrowly focused" these days? Slightly OT, but Kevin's YouTube link "An Engineer's Guide to Cats" is a little illustrative.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 8, 2008 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

None of that was things Americans did. We simply lucked out, and our elites considered themselves geniuses. Posted by: Rick B

Yes and no. The U.S. had the most "flexible" form of capitalism (and almost none of the post-colonial baggage) at a time when Europe was already in economic decline.

Germany's rise as an industrial power in the 1930s piggy-backed on it's remilitarization. The German standard of living on the eve of WWII was not the equal of that of the United States, though its industrial might was by far the greatest in Europe.

The political-economy of the U.S. just after the war, coupled with being the only unscathed full participant in the war, gave the U.S. a 25-year period of unchallenged world economic supremacy. If we hadn't been the country we were prior to the war, not being physically affected by it would have meant a much slower global recovery.

Up until the early 1960s, the U.S. really didn't need to import much of anything to provide our economic needs. In fact we remained a net exporter of not just food but manufactured goods as well until the late 1960s. For a time we had absolute and comparative advantage for producing just about anything you could think of and certainly everything we needed. Massive U.S. population growth, the rise of OPEC, and the reindustrialization of Europe and Japan (and now S. Korea, Taiwan and China) changed everything beginning in the 1970s.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 8, 2008 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

Herbert Hoover was an engineer.

Posted by: Flavius on May 8, 2008 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

I've worked in high tech for two decades, and what I think he's getting at is the idea that there's often a stratification when work offshored with the idea that architect and certain design engineer (as opposed to technicians) jobs are kept here.

Part of this is based on assumed cultural differences, namely the belief that Indian developers are good . . . when they have a very specific task. They are not as well rounded or flexible for the requirements of design.

There are lots of problems implicit in this idea that the really 'techy' and critical design jobs stay here and that the 'grunt' work can go overseas. I can't say that I disagree with Poulos, if that is indeed his point.

Posted by: tx bubba on May 8, 2008 at 2:53 AM | PERMALINK

When reading Poulos keep in mind that he is a nitwit.

I hope that helps.

Posted by: tbogg on May 8, 2008 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

why were you wasting your time reading Poulos? now you made me waste my time, 'cause i click on the link to see if it made sense.

Posted by: larrybob on May 8, 2008 at 4:21 AM | PERMALINK

The hegemony of engineers? Which parallel universe are we talking about here?

Well, I had to look up the meaning of hegemony, but now I realize the word describes my husband's view of the world. Yes, he's an engineer.

Posted by: polo on May 8, 2008 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

The political-economy of the U.S. just after the war, coupled with being the only unscathed full participant in the war

Ignoring, of course, that little kerfluffle from 1939 through 1941...

Britain: 'Fucking 'ell, where've you been?'
America: 'Ah, having breakfast. So, what's going on, hey?'
— Eddie Izzard, Cake or Death, 'Royal Genetics'

Posted by: Mike on May 8, 2008 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

Of course there is a hegemony of engineers. They have wrestled the influence of the built environment away from the more sensitive and creative architects and thus we live in a mostly sterile world with sharp corners and sharp personalities. Let the engineers figure out how the engine can keep running but allow the architects to dictate what the car will look like.

Posted by: lamonte on May 8, 2008 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

I've always suspected that there existed a discrete class of human knowledge called "engineering" that was expendable for civilization.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on May 8, 2008 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Sigh. Well the secret is out now, there is no stopping it.

Tau Beta Pi stands for the Latin Totalus Bita Pie. A rough translation is "We Want ALL the World, Bwa haha haha ha ha." Our cover story is that it means "Smart Engineers like Pie," but that is a clever ruse.

We were founded (get it, founded, Engineers, foundries?) in 1885. There have been numerous underground publications since then, most of them appearing in school libraries to recruit more members. I recall "Mits, Wits, and Logic" from my own Jr High library. And it almost goes without saying "Heinlein." Clearly his "competent man" was an engineer and his later books show that we will get all the young chicks. Bwa haha haha ha ha.

Posted by: Tripp on May 8, 2008 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

The following is a comment taken from Poulos' website. I think it says all that needs to be said about Poulos' lame effort to channel the late Bill Buckley.

"You have a very impressive vocabulary. Congratulations! Just out of curiosity, what color is the sky in your world?" alwsdad — May 7, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 8, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Herbert Hoover was an engineer.

Mengele was a physician.

Hitler majored in Social Science.

Jonah Lucianne majored in Women's Studies.

All this proves something. What, I don't know.

Posted by: gregor on May 8, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

What kind of ludes was Poulos taking when he wrote/said that "engineers" thing?

Gregor wrote: Hitler majored in Social Science.

Before he dropped out to become an effete landscape painter-- seems he didn't learn that much in college, either, since he ran his country into the ground and needed to rob and loot and conquer to make his economy barely work.

Posted by: Swan on May 8, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Jonah Lucianne majored in Women's Studies.

and still couldn't get laid. at a women's college.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on May 8, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe he is talking about the guys who thought it would be fine to develop atomic weapons because they were advancing human knowledge. Or maybe he is talking about the guys to developed the iPod because everyone needs to have their 10,000 favorite songs available in an instant. Or maybe he is talking about those that invented the supercharger because everyone needs a 500 horsepower car to go pick up ciggies and a six-pack.

Posted by: red@cted on May 8, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Hayek's animosity wasn't directed at engineers so much as at an engineering standpoint and method that led to centralized, planned economies when it was misapplied to social and political questions.

'So far as the solution of his engineering problem is concerned, he is not taking part in a social process in which others may take independent decisions, but lives in a separate world of his own.'

Hayek (from lemmecaution's link: http://mises.org/story/2782)

Posted by: otherpaul on May 8, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

the hegemony of engineers

I think he misspelled "Freemasons", but he really meant "Knights Templar".

Posted by: thalarctos on May 8, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Hegemony of engineers = Scotland, doesn't it?

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 8, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Poulus: the hegemony of engineers

thalarctos: I think he misspelled "Freemasons" ...

Or perhaps he meant "Freemasons and Jews". Not that I'm getting touchy or anything, but if you replaced "engineer" with "Jew" in this thread it would read like a neo-Nazi site.

Posted by: alex on May 8, 2008 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an engineer, and as much as I hate to admit it, I agree with Poulos. Most fellow engineers I've worked with lack appreciation for the liberal arts and don't embrace civics. I think Poulos is saying that technocrats make poor caretakers of the Constitution, civil rights and other cornerstones of the American Way. In other words, engineers tend to be Republicans.

Well. . . it's true that 90% or engineers are crap. But then 90% of everyone is crap.

Posted by: on May 8, 2008 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

from 1985 to 2000 about 435,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents a year graduated with bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. Over the same period, there were about 150,000 jobs added annually to the science and engineering workforce

You know this got thrown out a few times in the H1B visa debate when Bill Gates was on Capitol Hill.

Cited this way - an apparent net of negative 300,000 - is a 'scare tactic', unworthy of suppposedly reality based eningeers :). The two flaws:
1)It fails to account all the retirements from 85-00 of those who had jobs in the apollo period. I would love to see 'jobs filled' vice 'jobs created' numbers - these would be an accurate comparion w/ # of degrees per year.
2)By defintion, all M.S receive B.S in past years., and most Ph.D's receive both M.S and B.S in past years. So putting *all degrees* with *new* jobs is well, BS - it should be new jobs with B.S.'s, or better, new 'job fills' with 'graduates entering workforce'

Plus wouldn't it be reflected in starting salaries if there were actually a glut of newly minted engineers? The link says they are currently on the order of 55K. When I graduated in '95 they were around 35K, IIRC. So not only have they more then kept of w/ inflation, more importantly, they have kept up and exceeded with the larger rises in tuition.

Posted by: Kolohe on May 8, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

luckily spelling isn't a criteria for B.S. starting salaries, otherwise I'd be eating a lot of ramen.

Posted by: Kolohe on May 8, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Kolohe,

Your analysis has two flaws.

First how many engineers retire a year? Do you think it is about 300,000? Yes, I would like to know that number too. I suspect the number is much less than 300,000. Heck, the baby boomers themselves are just starting to retire.

Second your idea about starting salaries is flawed. What you do not know is that the career salaries for Engineers has flattened out considerably.

When I graduated in '78 I was told my salary (on average, accounting for inflation) would double in the first five years.

From what I know of Engineer salaries today a very experienced engineer will not make double the starting pay you report.

Starting pay may have risen slightly but max pay has declined greatly.

For reference, my starting pay of $16,500 in 1978 would be about $41.5 in 1995 dollars and $55K in 2007 dollars, and the benefits were better then. For one thing medical was free.

From my perspective starting pay has fallen, not risen, and max pay is way down.

Posted by: Tripp on May 8, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

I work in Information Technology and I am one of the 'engineers' so many of folks here seem to enjoy denegrating. I would just have to say the the writer should have included the term 'Indian' in his hegemony statement. My dept is approx 50% offshore staff, I haven't seen a junior programming job even offered by my company in the last 10 years or so. The junior programmers of today will be the architects of tomorrow and I can tell you at this rate they will all be of Indian origin. I work with big staffs of them everyday and if we had a 'work' program or 'social' program that took disadvantaged US minority citizens and gave them jobs like these is such big numbers there would be an outcry big enough to bring the house down. Yet these guys keep coming here by the boatload and I think very few people seem to be even aware of it. I suppose as a liberal myself I should feel proud I am doing so much to bring up the next generation but I just can't help feeling that the 'bright futures' I am bringing will provide the benefits to another country, largely at the cost to my own.

Posted by: latim on May 8, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kolohe: Cited this way - an apparent net of negative 300,000 - is a 'scare tactic', unworthy of suppposedly reality based eningeers :).

You're right, but it was the best quote I could grab from the otherwise excellent BusinessWeek article I linked to. Furthermore, even a sound bite statistic beats Zakaria's completely data free "analysis", or Gates's utterly unverifiable claims.

In addition to Tripp's excellent points, I'd add that the question isn't how many people retire from the field, as how many people leave the field and why. I wouldn't count an engineer or programmer who becomes a burger flipper because they can't find a job in their field as a "retirement".

This is especially crucial as the H-1B is largely a tool to enable age discrimination. This has been throughly documented by Norman Matloff.

Plus wouldn't it be reflected in starting salaries if there were actually a glut of newly minted engineers?

And wouldn't it be reflected in starting salaries if there was a shortage of newly minted engineers?

The link says they are currently on the order of 55K. When I graduated in '95 they were around 35K, IIRC. So not only have they more then kept of w/ inflation

Inflation is the correct measure only if you assume that people's standard of living shouldn't rise in concert with increasing GDP/capita. I don't believe that.

Between 1995 and 2006 nominal GDP/capita increased 58%. 1.58*35000 = 55322. So $55k means starting salaries have stayed flat, even though the time period includes the biggest tech boom in American history. Hardly evidence of a shortage, is it?

Yet we continue to have a guest worker program for engineers and programmers, and disinterested parties like Gates are fawned over on Capitol Hill when they testify that we need to increase the guest worker quota.

Posted by: alex on May 8, 2008 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

allow the architects to dictate what the car will look like.

"It doesn't matter if the car moves, what matters is that the design is new and that the shape says something Very Important about the human condition and our perceptions of whether right angles are really necessary!"

Yes, I'm an engineer. No, there is no hegemony of engineers in America. Engineers are treated like interchangeable parts. That's ultimately why I went to graduate school: better opportunities to be found thinking up interesting problems and telling other people to solve them, rather than begging others for jobs where you might be allowed to solve problems.

Posted by: Tyro on May 8, 2008 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

latim,

feeling that the 'bright futures' I am bringing will provide the benefits to another country, largely at the cost to my own.

Without a doubt. My company announced with great fanfare how they were investing $3 Billion in India while "consolidating" sites here in the US. They required all US employees to watch the video of the announcement. Then they announced a program where "older" workers could "retire" and be "helped" to get a teaching degree so we could train the next generation of disposable workers. Then they wondered why they couldn't get enough volunteers for Engineering week to go into the local schools.

Obviously my corporation's loyalty is with the corporation and they don't give a rip about any employees or country, including the US. They used to at least pretend they did but now they don't even bother with that. They don't need to. They can tell Bush and their employees to take a flying duck and we've got no power to stop them.

I've got two children who are national merit scholars and thus have gotten my corporation's scholarship and neither one is going into a tech field because, you know, they aren't stupid.

I suspect my corporation will soon change the scholarship rules because, you know, they aren't stupid either. Their interests simply do not align with mine or with the United States.

Posted by: Tripp on May 9, 2008 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Sometimes it's really that simple, isn't it? I feel a little stupid for not thinking of this myself/earlier, though.

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