Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Age of Science is Over

During the State of the Union the other night, President Bush echoing pundits everywhere, said that the US is falling behind in science and technology, and mercifully resisting the urge for protectionism, called for better math and science education. Every issue of American Scientist says the same thing. Asian countries value math and science, our kids should too. So too say the pundits on Charlie Rose today, as well as the globalization scare mongers like Thomas Friedman.

Yet few economists seem to be too worried. My thought, since when should the US be following other people’s leads, aren’t they following us? Where is the market failure? (ok there are lots, but stay with me here) Maybe the market for education knows something our experts and pundits do not.

Sure, other countries are graduating more scientists and engineers than we are, but they are also graduating more farmers too, and have populations with far higher farming aptitude. The US left the agricultural economy behind long ago—we manage to lead the world in food production with only 1-2% of our work force—maybe it is time to start expecting the end of the science economy. Sure there will still be scientists and engineers, just like there are still farmers, but the rest of us will be doing something else. People seem less concerned with the speed of their gadgets nowadays than with their design.

If not science then what else? I don’t know. Marx was smart enough to not try to predict what we would do with all the free time technology would bring: perhaps artists and musicians, athletes and life coaches, writers and therapists, professors and diplomats, chefs and architects, doctors and vets, inventors and entrepreneurs. Students aren’t clamoring to study math and science in school, maybe not because they are too stupid and lazy, but they (with the help of the market) are smart enough to realize those aren’t the skills they need for the 21st century.


Anonymous said...

ah. always a protectionist. always in defense of the US's glory. i wish someone could play a better devil's advocate. nonetheless, this is your blog afterall...hence your views.

so many issues to pick at. i guess i'll only pick one today.

the US agricultural industry is doing so well on the 1-2% of the population not because US agriculture is *soooo* good. don't we have to factor in the protectionist measures of the so-called republican/"pro-market" government - agricultural subsidies? if the market were truly left to run freely, developing country farmers would be the one driving the remaining US farmers out of business cause the US producers are so much more expensive. oh, not to mention the "subsidy" of exploiting cheap migrant labor from south of the border.

one thing that really peeves me about US policy. they love globalization and want free trade and all when it benefits the US. when it's to the detriment of US domestic workers, they bitch and moan and pull out all their protectionists gear. (just to name a couple, think: tech jobs farmed [no pun intended] out to india, completely-anti-free-trade quotas on chinese textiles.)

of course every country has their own country's best interests in mind, no matter how contradictory those policies are. i just wish your country would freaking admit it at once. that they aren't the noble and beacon of guiding light for the rest of the world. they are just like any other country, self-interested first and only.

(and okay, then coming second, maybe rattle the bells about appalling human rights abroad....oh boy, that leads into a whole new arena of hypocrisy....)

HoBs said...

so i totally agree with you here. I think this protectionism is a bad idea. it is very bad in agriculture and textiles, and so far, there hasn't been much protectionism when it comes to software (despite the rhetoric of Howard Dean and John Kerry who capitulating to popular sentiment were pushing for laws to block it) and what I was trying to say was that there shouldn't be. the US should let the indian programmers have those jobs. the US stopped making tvs and vcrs and that didn't hurt the economy.

of course i am very much against protectionism. i should have made that more clear.

(the us has been trying to cut farm subsides again, but the europeans have been blocking their efforts, but you're right, the US should do more to discourage protectionism. of course, that's hard to tell to people like my mom or uncle who feel they already lost their job to india)