Martha, Greed & the Right Thing
Gazing out my window, I'm enjoying what's been a rare sight as of late: the sun. But as I read my paper all three front-page photos leave me feeling anything but sunny. The images: Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa caught with a corked bat; President Bush meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders; and a really unflattering photo of media maven Martha Stewart coming out of court after being indicted on...
Gazing out my window, I'm enjoying what's been a rare sight as of late: the sun. But as I read my paper all three front-page photos leave me feeling anything but sunny. The images: Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa caught with a corked bat; President Bush meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders; and a really unflattering photo of media maven Martha Stewart coming out of court after being indicted on stock fraud charges. The first and latter, truth be told, garner a smirk on my face—finally, justice for at least two of what seems to me a legion of greedy people. The other image, of the leaders meeting in their "road map" summit, is bittersweet, suggesting hope, but I fear it's probably just another band-aid that will soon fall off.
What does this have to do with engineering? A few weeks back, we posted a web story noting a significant decline in young Americans committing to a career in engineering. Of those entering the field, the report noted, minority representation is also declining significantly. This story spurred a number of reader responses, inferring that the real problem is there are no engineering prospects because all of these jobs are being taken by foreign engineers working for half of traditional salaries (see Letters p. 9). At first I was taken aback by this seemingly xenophobic mentality. But in reading the letters more carefully, something else jumped out at me—greed. In other words, some companies (these were manufacturers), to maintain or improve their profit margins, are conducting what appears to be some pretty disreputable business practices.
While I cannot condone the notion of preventing people from other countries from coming here to improve their lives, it should not be at the livelihood of Americans, and U.S. companies should take heed. Yet, this ugly notion surfaced as an undercurrent of a real estate technology conference I recently attended. There, top business leaders noted they're automating and consolidating their businesses to be more streamlined. They freely admit this means traditional positions will go away: receptionists, parking lot attendants and generalist building managers to name a few. Now, I'm all for making a good living, and I certainly don't begrudge Sammy, Martha or Corporate America from getting their fair share. The question is where is the line between one's worth and greed? These days, too many seem to be crossing the line.
Furthermore, be it the advance of technology or just plain greed, what do we do with people displaced by these changes, be it an engineer or receptionist? Call me an idealist or just a fool, but it seems to me that as a society and therefore, a government, we should be investing in social idea people—Imagineers, to borrow a term from Disney—people capable of generating the same kinds of innovative solutions for the American people that the top minds do to help Corporate America meet its financial objectives.