The shortage of STEM workers: another bogus crisis crafted to benefit the 1%.

Summary: Another day, another astonishing bogus crisis (the STEM shortage) in which well-meaning Americans labor against their own interests to further enrich the 1%. The true nuggets of insight in the news media reveal so much, but accomplish nothing unless they spark action.

Better days are here, for some of us.

“Big industry constantly requires a reserve army of unemployed workers for times of overproduction. The main purpose of the bourgeois in relation to the worker is, of course, to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it …”
— Marx (1847, unpublished work)

“Taking them as a whole, the general movements of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army …”
— Marx, Das Kapital (1867)

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This is a tale of the New America: the mythical STEM crisis:

  1. The STEM Crisis Is a Myth“, Robert N. Charette, IEEE Spectrum, 30 Aug 2013 — “Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.”
  2. The STEM Crisis: Reality or Myth?“, Michael Anft, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11 November 2013
  3. The truth about the great American science shortfall“, Karin Klein, op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, 24 February 2014
  4. The Tech Worker Shortage Doesn’t Really Exist“, BusinessWeek, 24 November 2014 {update}

It’s an example of how America works in the 21st century: well-meaning but foolish people serving the plutocracy:

  1. Plutocrats (e.g., Bill Gates) see a need for more cheap workers.
  2. Create fake scare: a shortage of workers trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  STEM! Some seed money, mostly for marketing.
  3. A thousand organizations — Federal to local schools, charities (e.g., Boy Scouts), businesses — rally to action.

That the shortage of STEM workers was bogus was quite obvious from the start, as Klein explains. It is Econ 101:

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  1. If there were a big, general shortage of these workers, you would expect to see their wages rising. That hasn’t happened.
  2. There would be relatively low and declining unemployment rates compared with people of similar educational levels. Hasn’t happened.
  3. There should be faster-than-average employment growth, which is occurring in some occupations but not others.

Scores of articles pointed out these obvious facts (include two posts on the FM website; see below). But nothing stops the needs of the 1%; we eagerly bow to their truth and march to their tune.

Brain
It’s useless unless put into action

We have real problems, including increasing inequality and loss of control to the 1%. But instead we’re like sheep, herded to suit the needs of the 1%. The wealth of online information, from government data to Wikipedia to free analysis — all in vain to a gullible people.

Perhaps the question we must ask ourselves is no longer how can we govern ourselves, re-taking control of the political machinery.

Perhaps the question should be do we deserve a Republic?  Can we govern ourselves?

This story ties together three themes dominating the FM website:

  1. Our desperate need to see the world more clearly.
  2. The source of our problems is the man in the mirror.
  3. We should feel anger at what we have become and how far we’re fallen.

These are just seeds tossed into the wind. I see no signs that they have or can take root. Until conditions change my guess is that reform remains impossible in America. We are beyond the point at which further description of the problem — the articles fill websites like Naked Capitalism — have any useful effect (other than entertainment for the politically passive). Pouring still more water on a rock does not make it wetter.

For More Information

See other posts providing a mirror into which we look at see America

Other posts about the STEM crisis:

  1. Do we have a shortage of workers, or just cheap employers? Part one of two..
  2. Do we have a shortage of workers, or just cheap employers? Part two of two.

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27 thoughts on “The shortage of STEM workers: another bogus crisis crafted to benefit the 1%.

  1. Reblogged this on The Contrary Perspective and commented:
    Another advantage of the “shortage” of STEM workers: You can stress that education has to focus on “practical” skills in science, technology, engineering, and math, while dismissing the importance of history, humanities, and other “fuzzy” studies. The implicit message: Get hard skills to work within the system, but never acquire a questing and questioning attitude toward the system. STEM is almost always couched as necessary for “competitiveness,” with little thought given to who’s really winning the competition, and whether the competition is fair to begin with.

    1. It is a double edged strategy.
      A career in STEM, as a “mere tool creator”, means you don’t get most of the deeper studies on human behavior directly related to your career.
      However this does have a big advantage of not having money direct your study in your free time on human behavior.

      To steal a quote from FM

      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” -Upton Sinclair

      A good quality STEM education provides more than just a way to create stuff. It provides one with a lot of critical thinking skills valuable for dealing with the study of human behavior. But it does take a lot of extra effort and the insight to see the connections.

      Many giants in history became big in areas outside their job. They had a job, but were not defined by it. I don’t know how different the situation compared to our present day “rat race” situation.

  2. Perhaps the question we must ask ourselves is no longer how can we govern ourselves, re-taking control of the political machinery.

    Perhaps the question should be do we deserve a Republic? Can we govern ourselves?

    When would you say was the last time in our history that we did govern ourselves, ordinary citizens as a whole holding control of the political machinery?

    Worldwide, are there contemporary examples? What does a modern nation in which the people govern themselves look like? (Switzerland?)

    Having been born in America in 1958 and not traveled much out the country, I must admit that the idea of deep, real democracy seems more like a Utopian myth than like anything I’ve ever seen in practice. Perhaps this is part of the problem?

    1. Coses,

      “the idea of a deep, real democracy”

      The standard is not perfect. It is never perfection. BTW, when you die you go to either a tyranny or a perpetual absolute monarchy.

      The question is if we can get back to the fairly decently run democracy of, for example, the 1970s.

    1. Joao,

      I am not familar with this issue at that level. But clearly the H1-B visas are a factor keeping wages low. 2263 thousand in FY 2012. And the terms keep these people in a form of indentured servitude..

      We can see how well it serves to keep wages low the the enthusiasm of corps to boost the numbers.

    2. I hate to use an anecdote due to their popularity here but I’m going to anyway. A friend of mine graduated from the engineering program at University of Buffalo. Out his graduating class he was one of two Americans. I have to believe that there IS a shortage, amongst natives anyway.

    3. [this comment appears not to be posting right — if it multiple-posts, very sorry!!!]

      I think Joao makes a good point- I was going to make a similar comment.

      I live in a university town, and I’m pretty sure that among “hard-science” and engineering, especially at the grad school level, immigrants outnumber the native-born. It seems to vary tremendously between occupations / fields of study, for some reason.

      I also do agree that all the talk about the STEM “shortage” is a loaded and misleading campaign. On the other hand if it resulted in funding for better elementary/secondary schools that would be great.

  3. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    “Another advantage of the ‘shortage’ of STEM workers: You can stress that education has to focus on ‘practical’ skills in science, technology, engineering, and math, while dismissing the importance of history, humanities, and other ‘fuzzy’ studies. The implicit message: Get hard skills to work within the system, but never acquire a questing and questioning attitude toward the system. STEM is almost always couched as necessary for ‘competitiveness,’ with little thought given to who’s really winning the competition, and whether the competition is fair to begin with.” – blogger wjastore

    Thomas Jefferson, who argued for enlightening the populace through education as an essential component of democracy, would agree.

  4. Re: “Perhaps the question should be do we deserve a Republic?”

    No, we deserve something more like a Greek polis. A republic is too muscle bound for today’s world.

    But, more fundamentally, we need to re-think how we approach things. The Archdruid recently made a good stab at that sort of thing:

    “What the partly imaginary neo-Victorian tech of steampunk suggests is that another kind of advanced technology is possible: one that depends on steam and mechanics instead of petroleum and electronics, that accomplishes some of the same things our technology does by different means, and that also does different things—things that our technologies don’t do, and in some cases quite possibly can’t do.

    It’s here that steampunk levels its second and arguably more serious challenge against the ideology that sees modern industrial society as the zenith, so far, of the march of progress. While it drew its original inspiration from science fiction and roleplaying games, what shaped steampunk as an esthetic and cultural movement was a sense of the difference between the elegant craftsmanship of the Victorian era and the shoddy plastic junk that fills today’s supposedly more advanced culture.
    …..
    What intrigues me about the steampunk movement, though, is that it’s gone beyond that kind of retro-tech to think about a different way in which technology could have developed—and in the process, it’s thrown open the door to a reevaluation of the technologies we’ve got, and thus to the political, economic, and cultural agendas which the technologies we’ve got embody, and thus inevitably further.”

    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-steampunk-future.html

    1. The Archdruid. If he’s not already paid by Bill Gates, he should be. Dreamy fantasy, unhinged to actual issues. He’s the philosphical equivalent of the old economist joke: what if you were on the Titanic as it was sinking? “I’d wish I had a spaceship!”

      This is the opposite pole of Leftist writing: the first is Naked Capitalism (descriptive, resolutely non-operational). The Druid is fantasy pretending to be analysis.

      The odds of either producing useful action are roughly zero, IMO.

    2. FM ( or Editor of FM, as the case may be ):

      Even if all your ad hominem and more were true, that begs the question of whether the proposition cited may have value remains.

      And its purpose is to stimulate the imagination, to consider potentialities that may be lacking.

      For clearly, our purpose is not merely to assert that we are all in a fix but rather to seek some way out of it.

      Isn’t it?

    3. “No, we deserve something more like a Greek polis. A republic is too muscle bound for today’s world.”

      Greek city-states were (1) frequently at war with each other — and very nasty wars they were (2) often at war with the native populations of regions in which they were establishing colonies (3) fundamentally based on slavery, no matter whether the regime was democratic, oligarchic or monarchic.

      Now your point may really consist of reusing some of the political mechanisms relied upon in Greek city-states, but then there is always the nagging question of the extent to which specific political constructs are inseparable from the particular socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the state in which they are in force.

    4. asdf,

      I too find Naked Capitalism informative and colorful. Also, the selection of articles shows the Left’s thinking in clear form: quite unrealistic politics, focused on description, almost allergic to operational considerations. So long as this continues the Left will continue to lose.

    5. What would a crash between two high efficiency steam cars with boilers at 2,000 psi look like? Would there be enough anthracite (“clean” coal) to power such a civilization? There is a reason Howard Hughes killed the steam car re-emergence.

      “Good enough for as long as it needs to last” is sound engineering and economics. If we will have much better autos in 15 years there is no point in 40 year autos. Not to mention the fuel burn caused by carrying around all the extra weight needed for long term survival.

  5. FM asks: “Perhaps the question should be do we deserve a Republic?

    We deserve as we behave as citizens. We deserve a Republic if we can keep it.

    I remain hopeful…but time will tell.

  6. Speaking of STEM graduates in the job market. My daughter is a full time highly-recognized and award-winning full-time Master teacher in Mathematics in an excellent university. She and her PhD associates in Mathematics (never to be on tenure tract) handle 85% of all the courses in the Mathematics department. They earn $35,000 a year in perpetuity with a 1% raise in the past This is not the “land of opportunity” that I knew as a young man after WWII and the 1950’s.

  7. It seems to me like the whole argument is very subjective. What is a STEM job? What is a STEM worker? At what point and by what measure do you declare a “shortage”?

    There are some narrow fields, such as certain types of chemical engineers and certain types of computer programmers for example, who are in very high demand and are paid accordingly. Along the same lines, math professors and astrophysicists, are not.

    So I would say that if you’re a young adult trying to decide what field to study, don’t just throw darts at a college catalog; and if you’re a government trying to decide what university programs to fund, don’t just throw money at anything that sounds science-y.

    1. Todd,

      All valid points.

      Shortages are to economists when wages are rising faster than the average AND above the rates of inflation and productivity (or some combination).

      Judging by recent remarks of corporate leaders, a labor shortage exists when wages are rising.

  8. The Tech Worker Shortage Doesn’t Really Exist“, BusinessWeek, 24 November 2014 — Opening:

    Along with temporary deportation relief for millions, President Obama’s executive action will increase the number of U.S. college graduates from abroad who can temporarily be hired by U.S. corporations. That hasn’t satisfied tech companies and trade groups, which contend more green cards or guest worker visas are needed to keep tech industries growing because of a shortage of qualified American workers. But scholars say there’s a problem with that argument: The tech worker shortage doesn’t actually exist.

    “There’s no evidence of any way, shape, or form that there’s a shortage in the conventional sense,” says Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University. “They may not be able to find them at the price they want. But I’m not sure that qualifies as a shortage, any more than my not being able to find a half-priced TV.”

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