It is an interesting thought experiment to consider what year we made the wrong turn. Was it the Beatles American tour in 1964? The New York Mets winning the Worlds Series in 1969? Or even Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon in 1969?
Or was it a detour when the road to the future was closed? Like 1963 with JFK’ s assassination, 1968 with MLK’s assassination, Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, or the September 11, 2001 attack?
Today’s reflection was stimulated by, “So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings as Professors”. The story tells that we are graduating too many PhDs in science. Even something supposedly future-proof such as Biomedicine is over-supplied. At MIT, there are 400 applicants for every open assistant professor position in engineering. (And only the best of the best even apply.)
The advice from policy makers is that workers must continually educate themselves to remain employed. Yet if newly-minted PhD grads in science and engineering cannot find appropriate employment, then our economic system is broken.
My friends and colleagues in engineering, science, law, and accounting, all have the same lament. (No doubt journalists would say the same.) There isn’t a profession anymore. The future is lower wages, and competition with offshore sources and automation.
Before the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945, there was some fear the unleashed nuclear chain reaction would not stop – it would continue until the entire world was destroyed. That thankfully didn’t occur, but it appears the world is being consumed by a chain reaction of lowest cost. If a location/individual doesn’t have the lowest wages/taxes/costs, its participation in the global economy soon becomes consumer-only as production moves to ever decreasing cost. Then what happens to the previous workforce and how do they afford these cheap products?
Ironically, lowest cost doesn’t mean lowest cost is passed on to the consumer. We have several industries such as airlines, banking, cable television, pharmaceuticals, etc., that are oligopolies. Their prices are bounded by what customers will pay, but they are still out-sourcing and cutting costs similar to those industries without such a privileged economic position. Just ask their employees.
I believe national governments should make employment of its citizens a priority. The only mechanism I know for equalizing trade balances is a tariff. There may be something better, but without an enforcement mechanism, an Ireland or China is always going to undercut other nations’ tax or currency rates. Perhaps tax rates should be a function of the full time employees employed by a corporation. Let’s also think about eliminating tax credits for automation until we have the world’s population working again.
It is curious that Aldous Huxley was eerily accurate in many of his predictions in Brave New World (1931). What’s surprising is the speed of this economic chain reaction.