“It’s the economy, stupid!” was the line that secured Bill Clinton’s election campaign in 1992 against sitting president George W Bush. Now, with economies struggling to grow it’s time to recognise that it’s engineering that drives the world economy, and we engineers have to recognise how we can play our part and get paid better at the same some. Our performance can, indeed has to improve.
Economists are stuck. They have tried almost every trick, but the world economy seems to be limping along, barely recovering from the financial crisis of 2008. There is no consensus among economists either, except that economic growth is unlikely to recover to the levels seen over the past 50 years.
[Update Nov 25, 2016: The election of Donald Trump by millions of disgruntled, underemployed Americans has demonstrated the need to focus on productivity and job creation. Unfortunately, it is going to be engineers who fix this issue more than anyone else. And they will need some new and special knowledge to do that.]
Now most people today, especially economists, would smile condescendingly if you were to suggest that engineering failures lie behind the continuing economic stagnation across the entire world today. “It’s a question of economic policy and politics, nothing to do with engineering,” they will say. They will point to government policy failures, governments failing to curb spending, or governments failing to spend enough to stimulate their economies.
In coming posts I am going to outline why engineering performance weaknesses help to explain current global economic weaknesses, and I will build on the research behind my book and more recent research to explain what we engineers can do about that. We engineers stand to gain more than most by doing so.
First, we need to understand just how significant engineering has become in the world’s economy, especially advanced economies. For example, recent data from the UK, for example, shows that engineering enterprises contribute more than a quarter of the U.K. economy. And it doesn’t stop there. About a third of all engineers and technicians work on non-engineering sectors of the economy, so our influence is even greater. Then think about food processing and distribution, construction, transport, communications, manufacturing, water, sanitation and energy: these engineered services influence almost everything else that contributes to the economy.
And it is not just the advanced economies. South Asia is a region I know well, and the economies there are dependent on basic labour-intensive agriculture. However, even where people and animals still provide much of the motive power, farming critically depends on irrigation, fertilisers, transport, communications, energy, construction and machinery manufacturing. Transport coupled with food processing, distribution, logistics and communications gets the food and agricultural commodities to consumers. Even in an agrarian pre-industrial economy, engineers have enormous influence.
You might be thinking, how can I, just an individual, have a significant influence on the global economy?
Of course you can only make a tiny influence working on your own.
Yet, as an engineer, your work is more influential than most other people because your work enables lots of other people to do more than they could otherwise. Then, by helping to spread understanding and good ideas through your networks to the global community of engineers, we can all amplify our individual contributions to make a difference globally. I need your help, not only to help build on good ideas developed by expert engineers, but also to help other engineers benefit as well.
In fact, everyone needs your help. We have an urgent need to keep resource consumption within planetary limits, something more likely to be influenced by us engineers than anyone else. And that change has to happen fast. To do that we need help from investors. Just now they’re not listening, for good reasons. I will argue that this is because we, as engineers, have let them down. We have to change that. We can change that.
In the next post I will explain why investors are not listening, and how our engineering performances have contributed to that.
We can fix this by thinking differently. Neither economists nor politicians can do it for us. In coming posts I will explain how. Before you read the next post, take some time to read a little from the following references: you will find them interesting and informative.
Deepwater Horizon Study Group. (2011). Final Report on the Investigation of the Macondo Well Blowout Disaster R. Bea (Ed.) Retrieved June 2016 from http://ccrm.berkeley.edu/pdfs_papers/bea_pdfs/dhsgfinalreport-march2011-tag.pdf
Kumar, A., Moss, A., & Johnson, E. (2016). Engineering UK 2016: The State of Engineering (pp. 312) http://www.engineeringuk.com/Research/Engineering-UK-Report-2016/.
Manyika, J., Woetzel, J., Dobbs, R., Remes, J., Labaye, E., & Jordan, A. (2015). Global Growth: Can productivity save the day in an aging world? (pp. 148). Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/can-long-term-global-growth-be-saved.