Saturday, April 27, 2013

My favorite commentary on the report so far

John Carney:
"It's high season for economic myth busting.

First, we had the myth of the 90 percent debt-to-GDP ratio busted open. And now one of Washington's other cherished myths—the lack of workers trained in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, for short)—has been demolished.

The U.S. has "more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations," a study released Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute has found. In fact, we're producing far more STEM graduates than we can place in jobs."
Most of the public probably isn't as deep into the discussion, but I for one don't mind being linked up with the Reinhart/Rogoff discussion!


A side note on how people talk about this: I've never particularly liked this framing of the problem as "producing more students than there are jobs" for the reasons you might expect an economist not to like that. It's got a "fixed stock of jobs" feel to it, which we know is wrong. My co-author, Hal, has done a lot work in the past on looking at the "STEM pipeline" which is really the fodder for these types of statements and he occasionally uses lines like this (indeed, lines like this are in our report). But I can tell you from having known Hal for a long time and talking with him a lot about these issues that he knows there's not a fixed stock of jobs, he knows how markets work (indeed he shines among sociologists on that one - often sociologists harbor a lot of suspicions and misconceptions). I guess he just says things like that because his different background means he winces at different things than I do. And if that's the case for a sociologist it's even more the case for a journalist.

My only point is, when people word things in a way that you wouldn't word things, don't automatically imbue that with all the significance that you are tempted to. Is Carney's writing here basically right or basically wrong? It's basically right. The difference in phraseology between something I might write and something he might write has to do with differences in our mental models of things rather than our understanding of the underlying point. That's not to say that phrasing can't carry greater significance - it definitely can. Just be careful before assuming it does and ask yourself if they are on the same page as you, just using different words.

1 comment:

  1. What exactly is a STEM shortage to start with? What would that mean?


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