Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mixed Bag

Tom Friedman writes about the same report on American global competitiveness that an editorial FLG lambasted yesterday also referenced. So, FLG thought he should read the report.

There's a lot correct in the report, but let's be honest, it's written by the National Academy of Sciences, and in particular largely by science and engineering professors, so of course they're going to call for more funding for science education and research. That's not to say they're wrong, but that we need to take a cautious approach to their conclusions.

A few factoids they think are relevant are anything but:
72nd in the density of mobile telephony subscriptions.

And the relative number of subscriptions matters why? It's not like there's a dearth of cell phones in this country.

The legendary Bell Laboratories is now owned by a French company.

Right. That legendary status hasn't been as great lately.

The world’s largest airport is now in China.

Who cares? They have a gazillion people, of course they need a big airport. To be honest, the focus on airports be people who travel to China is mind-boggling to FLG. Yes, LaGuardia, JFK, LAX, O'Hare are old. But so what? You can get on a plane and travel anywhere you want. Denver has a relatively new airport, which is nice, but you still get on the same planes and go so many places. It's the travel that matters, not how nice or big the airport is.

Manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is now lower than when the first personal computer was built in 1975.

This is a natural part of the cycle. High technology products that require highly skilled labor eventually becomes something closer to commodities as time goes by. In fact, much computer manufacturing is pretty much a commodity trap, which is why Apple couldn't resist switching to the Intel platform a few years ago to save money. Being in computer manufacturing sound high tech, and is to some extent, but does anybody really think that it is in America's interest to be in some price war with Taiwanese computer memory producers?

During a recent period during which two high-rise buildings were constructed in Los Angeles, over 5,000 were built in Shanghai.

And this is a relevant metric of economic competitiveness why exactly? People don't build high-rises in LA because there are fucking earthquakes you dumbfucks! But more profoundly, FLG doesn't understand what construction in two cities of a certain type of building over a "recent period" has to do with long-term growth. Call him crazy.

Sixty-nine percent of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without a degree or certificate in mathematics.

FLG doesn't have a degree or certificate in mathematics, but he could teach algebra I. It ain't rocket science.

Ninety-three percent of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught the physical sciences by a teacher without a degree or certificate in the physical sciences.

Again, FLG could lead a dissection of a cow eye or pig heart. Plus, he can explain what osmosis is, what the noble gases are, etc. Middle school science doesn't require a degree in science.

Forty-nine percent of United States adults do not know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

If you've ever been to Vegas, then this statistic doesn't surprise you. It's nutty, but not surprising. But FLG was wondering, what exactly does this have to do with economic competitiveness? 99.999999999% of jobs could be done perfectly well by somebody who thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth every three months. It simply isn't relevant to economic competitiveness in the least. Perhaps it's symbolic of something about the population, like there's a whole bunch of dumbasses out there, but FLG cannot blame the school systems for people not knowing something like this. It's just too fucking basic.

The total annual federal investment in research in mathematics, the physical sciences and engineering is now equal to the increase in United States healthcare costs every nine weeks.

Again, look who is writing this damn thing. But FLG would ask, beyond basic science, why exactly does the federal government have an incentive to fund research? The beauty of science in the Internet Age is that if a discovery is made pretty much anywhere, then everybody knows about it right quick. Consequently, people in the United States can use the knowledge gleaned from research subsidized by the Europeans and make an economically viable product. FLG isn't sure that we always need to do research here, at least insofar as economic competitiveness goes.

Bethlehem Steel marked its 100th birthday by declaring bankruptcy.

Somebody please tell me how this is at all relevant to American economic competitiveness moving forward.

China’s real annual GDP growth over the past thirty years has been 10 percent.

That's because they're going through a one-time structural shift from an agriculture economy to an industrial/post-industrial one. China and the United States are at completely different points on the development curve. Consequently, China's slope is steeper and their growth will naturally be higher. Y'all are some dumbfucks despite having so many fancy-pants degrees.

For the next 5-7 years the United States, due to budget limitations, will only be able to send astronauts to the Space Station by purchasing rides on Russian rockets.

FLG is little Johnny Space Geek, so this does chafe. But really, does this have much to do with economic competitiveness in the long-term? FLG doubts it.

When MIT put its course materials on the worldwide web, over half of the users were outside the United States.

When you remove the location and cost barriers of course the distribution of users will be more representative of the world population as a whole. Or at least the English speaking portion. Then again, I don't want to fly in a plane designed by some jackass who read the lecture notes from an MIT Fluid Dynamics course on the website.

FLG could go on, but it's just too painful.

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