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Advocating More STEM Training Misses the Point

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Here’s a letter – obviously inspired by Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity [2] – to the Washington Post:

You report that Mexico is now successful at producing lots of engineering graduates, but so far unsuccessful at employing this talent in ways that unleash substantial economic growth (“Mexico is now a top producer of engineers, but where are jobs? [3]” Oct. 29).  Herein lies an important economic lesson: those who wish to promote genuine economic growth must more carefully distinguish cause from effect.

That the United States surpasses Mexico at employing engineering (and other) talents creatively and productively is an effect of America’s greater openness to competition and creative destruction, as well as of the fact that a significant number of Americans continue to admire and applaud the bourgeois virtues that fuel innovative commerce and industry.  So in the U.S. the productive employment of engineers is less a root cause of America’s economic success than an effect of America’s underlying bourgeois-friendly institutions.

A successful modern economy does indeed productively use a large number of engineers, but the mere availability of a large number of engineers does not itself produce a successful modern economy.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

UPDATE: Completely coincidentally, my colleague Garett Jones has a related post today at EconLog [4].  (HT Grieve Chelwa)