Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Impending Geek Shortage

In his recent editorial (“Why a liberal arts degree? The Big Shaggy”), David Brooks of the New York Times writes, “… many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation; … Very few people have the ability to create a great brand;…”

Polite words almost fail me.

Mr. Brooks’ argument is that manipulating emotion by words is a rarer and higher-order skill than ‘simple’ problem-solving. This view was shared by the ancient Greek philosophers, who looked down on the people who made things as ‘mere artisans’. It is also the stated view of Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian (UK), and the late writer Norman Mailer.

To be consistent, this alternate reality means ignoring the hard work and dedication of legions of scientists and engineers, and treating our comfortable existence as the Natural state of things.

It is also the apparent view of our nation’s scientifically- and technologically-illiterate middle managers, administrators, money manipulators and politicians. Starting in the 1970’s, they collectively watered down science and mathematics education, reduced funding for research and de-emphasized manufacturing.

This ‘service-based’ economy allowed us the illusion of confusing the movement of wealth with its creation, and brought the nation to bankruptcy. Lawyers, accountants, bankers, hedge fund managers, and the like all have incomes which are vastly larger than those of the typical scientist, and yet they produce absolutely nothing of any substance.

Unfortunately for them, the energy, economic, environmental and societal problems that we face are largely scientific and technological. Simply put, without a lot of such work, most of us would starve.

At most universities, the number of majors in any one of psychology, sociology, communications, pre-law, and other non-technical fields dwarfs the total in the hard sciences and mathematics combined. Exactly where will we get the experts that we badly need?

17 comments:

AntiCitizenOne said...

I tend to strongly disagree with what you wrote.

You are trending into believing neo-classical endogenous growth theory.

Paddington said...

AntiCitizenOne: I presume that you are talking about the third-to-last paragraph. Certainly, the technical term that you use suggests a strong economics background. My observations are as a scientist and engineer. The effect on the monetary system of leverage could be seen several years before the dotcom and housing bubbles burst. As each transaction was made, more created money stuck with the finance structure, to the point where no industry could compete with the growth rate. This positive-feedback loop meant that more industries cannibalized themselves, and the banks owned an even greater proportion of all assets.

Nick Drew said...

the eternal tension between 'content providers' and 'process managers'

frequently, neither recognizes this ... but each needs the other !

Paddington said...

Nick - I agree with you. However, the balance of numbers, power and money has shifted too far to managers.

Rolf said...

P: agree.

James Higham said...

This ‘service-based’ economy allowed us the illusion of confusing the movement of wealth with its creation, and brought the nation to bankruptcy.

Never a truer word was stabbed into a keyboard.

Paddington said...

James - High praise indeed.

峻君 said...

Failure is the mother of success...................................................

huntb said...

It is easier to get than to keep it...................................................................

Kath黃rinA俊宇 said...

It is never too late to learn. ..................................................................

韋富 said...

very popular to u!......................................................................

茹順茹順 said...

在莫非定律中有項笨蛋定律:「一個組織中的笨蛋,恆大於等於三分之二。」......................................................................

芸茂 said...

Poverty is stranger to industry.................................................................

青卉青卉 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

Wolfie said...

We are living in the mediocracy, a new social tyranny instigated by the bland and talentless. A feature of every Empire before it implodes.

You might want to delete some of that spam too.

吳婷婷 said...

It takes all kinds to make a world.............................................................

雲亨雲亨雲亨 said...

quite touching~~~thx for sharing..................................................................