Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A debate on the STEM shortage/surplus

Via Beryl Benderly, a video of a debate between STEM shortage skeptics Hal Salzman and Ron Hira and STEM shortage proponents Robert Atkinson (of the tech think tank ITIF) and Jonathan Rothwell of Brookings.



I haven't watched it yet, but I will. Ms. Benderly's pull quote seems to be pretty funny, which is Robert Atkinson saying "If you don't say there's a shortage, you don't drive improvement." Is this like saying "we had to lie to the village in order to save it?"

18 comments:

  1. Well, Mr. Atkinson made some arguments you really don't hear too often.

    "equity and opportunity, or innovation and growth"?

    I have never heard anyone put the argument in such black-and-white terms that a) make the speaker sound so comically close-minded (It's also possible to have both equity and innovation...or neither) and b) make the employer/employee relationship sound so adversarial. Why anyone would choose a career in STEM after hearing this?

    Neither have I ever heard the argument that blatantly screwing STEM workers in the name of cheaper products is acceptable, progressive policy. Greedy scientists taking bread out of the mouths of starving children! (It's strange that the wages of MBA-holders and CEOs apparently have no effect on prices.)

    Like I said, these are some odd positions. Are they the official positions of ITIF? Or is Atkinson off the rails?

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  2. @ 12:45:
    "The [recent graduates] that have the highest earnings are biology and chemistry, followed by computer science majors, and then engineering majors, physical science majors."

    Where the *hell* is Brookings getting that from? Unless his values for biology and chemistry include medical doctors and ChemEs in those values, they have no basis in reality. I'm unemployed and am aiming for a mid 30's job with a bachelor's in chem (about what I should expect at my level), whereas my brother, an entry-level Mech E, is getting more than twice that. Obviously two data points aren't a statistic, but that's much closer to what I've been seeing on the ground.

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    1. (Also sorry for my many typos.)

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    2. Does that include Walter White?

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  3. Well, here's one list...

    http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_24364507/college-students-choosing-majors-now-have-starting-salaries

    Chemists don't look good now (though no one does, based on the unemployment numbers) - their pay isn't that much different from liberal arts majors and nontechnical fields. It also says that pharma jobs pay really well for experienced people...I guess they must be talking about the newer ones that haven't been laid off yet.

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  4. loved this gem of an argument:

    There are 5 job openings for every STEM applicant. There is 1 construction worker opening for every 10 construction workers. Therefore, we need more STEM workers

    Sorta different barriers to entry/opportunity costs for those 2 jobs my man. Forget construction workers, how do STEM job openings compare to baristas? That I'm really interested in

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  5. Finally some MSM love for the correct side of the story? Does the Atlantic count?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/03/the-myth-of-the-science-and-engineering-shortage/284359/

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    1. Teitelbaum is one of the original anti-STEM shortage scholars. Good stuff, also trying to find a recording of a recent debate of his.

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  6. There is something about Dr. Rothwell that is like biting aluminum foil.

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  7. This was both interesting and frustrating to watch. Two panelist appear to be 'policy' types who seem to have some agenda about there being a shortage of STEM workers. These two also view the scenario from the viewpoint of employers and government officials. The other two panelists to me appear far more realistic. They view the same scenario from the viewpoint of STEM workers, both experienced and new to the labor force. Them I could stomach listening to.
    The questions from the audience were somewhat interesting. However, the person who remarked on the necessary math skills that a UPS delivery man is required to have, was barely relevant to the topic.

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    1. I have to say, I have gained a lot of respect for Ron Hira and his approach to incumbent workers.

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  8. I don't think this is really complicated

    1: Except for a few hot STEM-flavors of the year, there is nothing remotely approximating a shortage of STEM workers. Wages are flat and unemployment above historical norms except in a few narrow, ever-changing specialties

    2: Letting in more highly skilled immigrants is good for America overall, however

    3: It is bad for whomever they will compete against. If you are reading this website, that probably means you.

    Should we let in more immigrants? Yes. But let's quit lying about a STEM shortage being the reason. It is not. No such shortage exists and letting in more highly skilled immigrants WILL hurt native STEM workers as a result.


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    1. "Highly skilled" is misleading. The vast majority of H1-Bs go to bachelor's degree holders...or less...working in IT and computer-related fields. The bar is actually pretty low. A few courses at the community college would cover what you'd actually need to know.

      It's not just sTem workers who get hurt by the current system. It's also people who potentially could become sTem workers...the unemployed, students, veterans, etc. These people could be retrained for middle class sTem jobs. Instead, we literally give away these jobs and pay people not to work.

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    2. Spot on, Mr. Brick.

      Sometimes I wonder if there was some kind of control of healthcare costs, that would free up extra money in business such that we would pay our workers better. Maybe the thing to do is look or reform of the healthcare system, so that its not such the huge profit generating institution is it (at the level of banking and phrmaceutical industry) that it is now, and the cheap immigrant problem would end itself.

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    3. I don't know if reducing any business's costs will lead to them paying the rank and file anymore - it will probably just end up in profits cashed out, which may or may not come back to the US economy. Credit cards might be an example - their borrowing costs should be close to 0, yet the resultant credit card rates are at least 15% (a far greater spread than, say ten years ago). Some of that difference is paying for previous losses due to overlending/lending to too many risky people (though I thought some of those losses had been covered by the federal government), but I think most of it is "what the market will bear", or "because we can". I would guess that bank employees aren't being paid more, either.

      With health care, I suspect if we either got rid of gov't health care or raised its costs, most of the resultant bill would be paid by individuals, because they seem to have little power to force others to take the bill. That might make it less attractive to come here, but probably not enough, but it would cut the amount people can consume, which would probably hurt businesses - the effect on businesses would depend on their labor costs and the effect of the costs to individuals on their markets. Unless wages drop to close to other world levels (while costs do not), it probably isn't going to be attractive to hire more here, or unless something else (quality, geopolitics, transit) factor into the decision. (This doesn't factor for productivity, but productivity has been somewhat decoupled from wages, anyway.)

      A cost that might be more helpful would be education (we pay lots for school, while the education of many of those ccoming to work here is paid for them), but I lack the imagination to see 1) where the money would come from to pay it, and 2) I would think that that might create an internal flood of workers to displace external ones, which probably wouldn't help either.

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  9. One of the questions from the audience got me fuming a little bit. Apparently he is disappointed with the math and communication skills of American graduates, and yet Industry loves to try to relocate to places with "cheaper standards of living", right to work, and abhorrent public education. You can talk to any Boeing machinist about the frustrations of that.

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    1. Businesses (including many of those hoping for better schools and STEM training and more visas) also seem to regularly hope both for lower corporate income taxes and easier foreign profit repatriation and for more government research support. If there is less money to do those things (and to maintain physical infrastructure so that businesses and everyone else can function) from business taxes, then more has to come more from individuals (either by taxes or by paying for things that government can't do).

      Of course, those are the same people who are (mostly) being paid less or displaced for cheaper labor elsewhere, and yet they are magically going to buy products which continue to become more expensive with less money, and thus sustain those businesses (China and India don't have enough people who can afford the prices that Apple charges, for example - as has been noted, middle class elsewhere is not middle class in the US or Europe).

      There's a lot of logical legerdemain going on in the upper echelons, I think.

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  10. Finally got around to watching the debate, a nice gem at 29:30 by Atkinson "supply can create its own demand" so i think that he's arguing that all chemists need to be entrepreneurs, start their own companies, and then these companies can hire all the chemists...because it's just that easy

    Ron looks generally annoyed for the whole debate, so bad that people keep talking passed each other and don't understand logic

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