Saturday, March 18, 2006
The Decline of the Middle Class
A friend sent me a link to an article about "offshoring" and engineering careers. I think the logic in the article is amiss:
Are we doomed? Of course not. There will always be a healthy demand for engineers in this country. If college enrollments really are declining then the demand will increase. Salaries will go up.
I think our expensive people drive the offshoring. Companies can't afford to pay US engineers' bloated salaries and compete with companies that use Indian or Chinese workers. Man-made things are getting cheaper every day; especially electronics. Those things are increasingly designed in the US and shipped off to India or China to be developed or built because our people are too expensive to use!
Sure, those companies will still need "engineers", but the majority of jobs between the designers and the foreign workers will be for liaisons; not real engineers who engineer things. A company that designs things in the US and ships them off to india or China to be developed or built is only going to need a few really good designers, and they can afford to pay them top dollar. The remaining engineering jobs are going to be pretty unfulfilling.
Is the US going to have anyone left who can take pride in building things for a living? It seems that very soon, the only way to make a living will be to entertain and service an ever-decreasing pool of designers and CEO's.
When man-made things get too cheap, it endangers the welfare of the people who build them and keep them working. For example, many already make the decision to sell their old cars because the labor to repair the cars is too high. At some point it becomes cheaper to just buy a new, disposable car. I'm actually considering replacing one of my toilets rather than hiring a plumber to come and unclog it for a couple of hundred dollars. That's a relatively new thing, and I think it means we're heading for time where it's not just ballpoint pens that are disposable; it's everything we own.
I think we will soon have no middle class. There will be people with skills in high demand who win fierce competitions, and then everyone else. Are the remaining people going to be around only to work at companies like Wal-Mart and McDonalds? Pretty soon the competition for even those jobs is going to allow those companies to require advanced degrees to qualify, just because they can. What will happen to the vast majority of citizens who don't have the "right" qualifications? How are they going to afford to live? Doesn't that endanger the US economy that relies on growth to diminish its debts?
We've got to find a way to restore the middle class in this country before we all leave its ranks. If we want the US to be producers only of know-how and design, we'd better find a way to train the majority of our citizens who are completely unprepared. We can't afford to have the world's worst grammar schools and most expensive, selective colleges. Something has to give!
Do you agree with me? If not, why? Leave a comment to tell me what you think!