Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Engineers as The New Elites - The Losers are in Revolt Against the Elites

Historically engineering was the most middle-class of the professions.  It was a way to instantly move into the middle-class.  If dad worked at the Ford plant and you liked working on your car, someone probably pointed you in the direction of mechanical engineering at your state university.  Over a 40-year career you earned and enjoyed an above average middle-class lifestyle.  Your children probably thought about engineering or medicine as a career.  Engineering got more of society from lower class to middle-class faster than any other professional path.

The middle-class has drastically shrunk in the last 20-years.  Dad no longer works at the Ford plant.  Mom might have been a part time secretary - but who has a secretary in 2016.  Globalization and technology have reduced many of the middle-class foundations that produced families that produced engineers.  If dad is an investment banker or runs a hedge fund, the odds of you becoming a mechanical engineer and going to State U is pretty slim.  Far too many social, cultural, and economic forces in play to allow that to happen.

The bottom line is that engineers are not members of the middle-class because we really don't have a middle.  They certainly aren't in the lower salary or net worth quartiles.  So if you are not at the bottom and we have no middle, then by default, engineering and engineers have become part of elite society.  As society got more complex and more technical, engineers have entered a sort of technical aristocracy - - it is very hard to look at a Google or Facebook engineer and not come to that conclusion.  In a world marked by epochal economic challenges and the growth of a political insurgency around the democratic world, you have to admit we are going pretty well.

Engineers are the elite masters of an unusually uncertain world.  Your B.S. in electrical engineering from State U with that MBA from Stanford has produced an important quality - you maneuver around a world of low growth/low inflation/low investment better than most because of your optionality, resilience, and agility.  This is no gimme putt, but engineers are helping to create solution spaces on a global scale.  The other elites are in need of engineers who can work at the intersection of feasibility, viability, and desirability in a world wanting cheaper, faster, and better on a daily basis.  The elites need other elites to get more productivity out of every existing asset using technology.  The Internet has produced a global data-discovery game - information is now being generated and utilized at an ever increasing rate of accelerated pace.  The elites cannot hire enough DOPes (date oriented peoples).  Engineers make excellent DOPes.

Which brings me to the excellent Martin Wolf column in the Financial Times today - The Losers are in Revolt Against the Elites.  This article is excellent and will be much quoted.  It should be must reading for the members of the elite class.  From the article:

"In the process, elites have become detached from domestic loyalties and concerns, forming instead a global super-elite.  It is not hard to see why ordinary people, notably native-born men, are alienated.  They are losers, at least relatively; they do not share equally in the gains.  They feel used and abused.  After the financial crisis and slow recovery in standards of living, they see elites as incompetent and predatory.  The surprise is not that many are angry but that so many are not."


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