David Leonhardt wrote about why the economy seems to suck for the vast majority of us in his post The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century. Once again, he drags out that idea that will not die that if we just graduated more people from college with the right technical skills, our wages would rise. Zombie conventional wisdom like this is what turns perfectly nice days into weeks of frustration, anger and despair for hundreds of thousands of unemployed, underemployed and “terrified of the next layoff” STEM workers.
Look, Dave, may I call you Dave? This simply isn’t true. I have been there and I have seen PhD after PhD after PhD in the hard sciences laid off for no other reason than because they cost too much money to employ according to some seed corn eating grasshopper with an MBA and a big bonus in his future. The laid off are people who were uber educated. They went to Yale and Stanford and had multiple patents to their names. Yes, they even knew how to use Microsoft Office. I don’t know how many times I have had to tell people lately that I know Microsoft Office like it is my native tongue. This notion that we are all technological dinosaurs and need even more education after decades in the lab, and reading and writing papers that would make the average American’s eyes bleed, is just beyond maddening.
If you don’t believe what I’m saying, Dave, check out what Pfizer did to Wyeth five years ago. Pfizer bought Wyeth and then proceeded to lay off all 19,000 employees including all but a handful of research staff. That’s all of my former colleagues but about two people who Pfizer retained. Gone. All their years of education, years of experience and technical expertise, all their livelihoods, and in some cases houses and college funds, eliminated. There’s a reason why Nutley, NJ, the home of Roche, is becoming a ghost town. There’s a reason why I fled NJ and moved to Pittsburgh. I got out just in time. Housing prices are crashing through the basement as all of the stunned STEM workers scramble to grab whatever work they can find before the next layoff or the soft money runs out or there’s another sequester. Or they get the hell out. I got the hell out. I’m not crazy.
You know what else is crazy making, Dave? That someone with your talent and access can’t look s&*% up on The Google to back up what you are writing. (Type “pharmaceutical layoffs 2010” for some really scary numbers) It’s like all those mysterious congresspersons who parrot all this nonsense about STEM jobs not being filled- because they read people like you. You have a responsibility to report the truth. If you don’t, there really will be a shortage, just like there is with some programming jobs. Back in the naughties, American programmers got laid off in droves and companies outsourced much of their development to Asia. Now, I see a lot of positions on job boards for people with computer science degrees and those jobs go begging. Well, what do you expect when the wages and jobs weren’t around for a decade and the programmers gave up and told their children to avoid programming like the plague? Why should anyone dedicate themselves to difficult degrees if there’s no payoff or way to make a living in the end?
So, stop doing it, Dave. Better yet, get out of the office and take NJT down to Princeton and pass all of the sites on your way that are now shuttered in the name of shareholder value. Not to sound all Marxist or anything but the problem is not that we have too few educated people, it’s that the shareholders own the means of production and they aren’t investing their capital in research anymore, at least not here.
Nothing is going to make wages rise until the shareholders see that it is in their best interests. And right now, they’re partying like it’s 2008.
There’s a great post on Naked Capitalism by Roy Poses, MD, titled Can Our Commericalized Health Care System Contain Ebola? The answer is of course it can but it has to be more proactive and that’s difficult these days when health care and drug development decisions are not being made by people with the expertise to make them but by “generic managers”.
Poses has another post on his own blog about how the “generic manager” is extracting value from various industries that is a must read. In short, there is a growing awareness that the grasshoppers have almost finished the seed corn and there must be policy imposed on them to stop the process. Time is short. Our policymakers can still save the day. Given the way the 2014 Senate races are going, it looks like this will fail.
Oh well. Prepare for a new Dark Ages.
Moving on to Princeton, Krugman has a blog about disinvestment at the public infrastructure level. When I think of infrastructure, I am reminded that this is what I asked Hillary Clinton about at YearlyKos 2007. She had a lengthy answer based on some well thought out policy, the highlight of which was a plan to expand our sorry excuse for broadband. What a missed opportunity that was. But I digress.
Wait, aren’t we trying to privatize absolutely everything anyway? Is it any surprise that investment in public infrastructure is going down?
Paul should realize by now that the 2008 election was all about saving the banks. They set it up that way. There wasn’t a plan for what came next. Ta-da!
One more thing: Thomas Duncan, the Liberian ebola patient in Dallas, is getting an antiviral experimental treatment called brincidofovir. Who names these things?? Anyway, he’s in critical condition but his liver function seems to be improving. That’s great. Unfortunately, brincidofovir messes up your kidneys so he’s now on dialysis.
Here’s a little bit of drug design/medicinal chemistry geekery. The structure of brincidofovir is shown below:
When I was doing high throughput screening data analysis, I might have chucked this structure into the delete bin because of that long tail. It’s big, it’s bulky, it’s greasy as bacon drippings. No one is going to get a decent drug out of that.
And that’s kinda true. Brincidofovir is a prodrug. That big, long greasy tail improves its bioavailability (you have got to be kidding). Once it gets into the body, that tail piece gets cleaved off to leave cidofovir, a viral DNA polymerase inhibitor:
I thought I’d mention that for No. 1 child who is taking a related class in the subject and now understands that when chemists say “cleavage”, they’re not always talking about your boobs.