\’Tis always the same, isn\’t it? To an engineer everything is engineering. To a politician all is politics, to a Marxist all is class.
Thus we find ourselves with Lord Browne telling us how the economy works:
The state of a nation is no more and no less than a function of what its people create. Creation begins in the laboratory, with research that unravels the processes which shape the world around us. It is then the job of engineers to turn scientific discovery into practical application, applying the fruits of the laboratory safely and productively to solve the problems of human existence.
The problem is that this is true of parts of the economy but not of all parts of it. That it is true of parts of it makes it important: that it is not true of all of it means that it is not a sole solution. For there are many more technologies (to use the word in its most expansive sense) that have absolutely nothing at all to do with engineering than there are that do.
Take, for example, the financial transactions tax. This is, as even the EU itself has reported, going to mean more expensive capital for companies. This will reduce the size of the total economy. No engineers were used or hurt in doing this: but the amount the people of the nation will create in the future is reduced by this method of taxation. This makes the FTT an undersirable technology, to be sure, but it\’s still a technology that affects production.
Or supply chain management, or just in time stocking of goods (both of which have had a large, much larger than generally acknowledged, impact on the larger economy). Or one I\’ve heard about, the stocking of fashion shops. There\’s a trade off between getting the stuff made in Spain or Portugal and doing it in China. China\’s cheaper, but with longer lead times. The correct blend of technologies seems to be to get the basic stock from China and then top up the best selling lines with goods from Spain and Portugal.
And yes, this is indeed a technology. Just as with David Friedman\’s point about turning wheat into cars. Some decades ago when he made the point the US did indeed use a factory in the Pacific to do this. The factory called Japan. So it is with the rag trade: Portugal and China are simply different technologies to make bikinis, each with their own costs and benefits.
So, no, I\’m afraid that not all will be cured simply if we have more engineering. Yes, creativity is indeed the root of all advance, but engineers aren\’t the only source of that.
Then there are two really bad errors……
The government\’s science budget, worth around five billion pounds a year, is recognition of the public good which results from these activities.
Puiblic goods eh? (Given that he is attempting to make an economic argument it must be public goods, not the public good.) You mean those non-rivalrous, non-excludable things like knowledge?
But we are in danger of being left behind. Science spending in China rose at a rate of 20 per cent per year in the first decade of this century, while Brazil tripled its research and development spending between 2000 and 2008. Scandinavian countries spend nearly four per cent of their GDP on research and development. In contrast, the UK devotes just 1.8 per cent of its GDP to R&D, and the science budget has been frozen since 2010.
Ah, excellent, those non-excludable and non-rivalrous things like knowledge that we can all benefit from wherever the original work might have been performed. You know, they spend more on science and thus there\’s more science for us all to enjoy?
And then this:
Second, we need to take meaningful steps to attract and retain the most talented individuals and teams, whether they are from the UK or abroad. We need 50 per cent more university graduates to go into STEM jobs every year if we are to fill the shortfall in scientists, engineers and technicians which the UK is likely to face by the end of the decade.
That\’s easy enough. We\’re in a market economy after all. You fuckers employing engineers have to pay them more. Problem solved.