Monday, October 29, 2012

STEM employment is not about "bourgeois virtues"

Don Boudreaux writes to the Washington Post:

"You report that Mexico is now successful at producing lots of engineering graduates, but so far unsuccessful at employing this talent in ways that unleash substantial economic growth (“Mexico is now a top producer of engineers, but where are jobs?” Oct. 29). Herein lies an important economic lesson: those who wish to promote genuine economic growth must more carefully distinguish cause from effect.

That the United States surpasses Mexico at employing engineering (and other) talents creatively and productively is an effect of America’s greater openness to competition and creative destruction, as well as of the fact that a significant number of Americans continue to admire and applaud the bourgeois virtues that fuel innovative commerce and industry. So in the U.S. the productive employment of engineers is less a root cause of America’s economic success than an effect of America’s underlying bourgeois-friendly institutions.

A successful modern economy does indeed productively use a large number of engineers, but the mere availability of a large number of engineers does not itself produce a successful modern economy."

The last paragraph is right on and similar to a lot of things I say about the issue (Don Boudreaux also tends to agree with me on the problems with priveleging high skill immigrants over low skill immigrants). But I think the first two paragraphs are misleading. "Bourgeois virtues" and a market oriented society are critical for long-run growth prospects but have nothing to do with the differential employment rates for engineers in the U.S. and Mexico. That is ultimately a demand question. There is no reason to expect artificial boosts to supply to lead to higher utilization of engineers (at least not without depressing wages in the market first). Even to the extent that you can increase employment after depressing wages, skilled workers like engineers are going to move to other fields where they'll probably do fine but where their skills won't be fully utilized.

But this demand issue really has little to do with a market oriented society. Full fledged socialist societies can usually find lots of things for scientists and engineers to do, after all. That completely misses the point. That's not a "good" outcome. And ultimately it's not socialism that employs those engineers any more than it is bourgeois virtues here. What employs engineers is demand for engineers, regardless of what kind of virtues the society has.

Those virtues help or hurt growth. They are not a guide to the dynamics of professional labor markets.

1 comment:

  1. god i'm so glad i took cafe hayek off my rss reader. they write nothing but idiotic bromides


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