Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Lawyers cause depressions

Posted by Ron Coleman on January 16, 2008

Glenn Reynolds writes, in reference to a predicted threat to the technological leadership of the US:

The big problem is that the American workplace doesn’t make technical jobs attractive enough. The pay is okay, but less than that of other professionals, like lawyers. And the working conditions for engineers and scientists are generally quite poor — too much Dilbert, not enough Skunk Works. They act as if there’s a positive conspiracy to take all the fun out of it, according several of my friends who work in the area.

Well, I have had this discussion with Instapundit before. I just don’t understand how a market-oriented guy can utter formulations like this. “The American workplace” isn’t some guy with a green eyeshade. Unless Glenn wants to see a Japan, Inc.-type “investing in winners” and pay-scale-setting government policy instituted here, which I certainly know he doesn’t, what is the point of this?

It would seem there is some structural reason that technology workers are compensated at the level they are here, considering all factors (e.g., the cost of living), if indeed it’s the case that they are undercompensated.

Bashing lawyers, again, is not the answer, because not only we can never make technology jobs competitive with the best professional jobs, but we can never make the gap here look anything like the gap in the developing world, i.e., among our putative competitors. They are not, in the long run, going to be one of possibly two or three global centers for international finance nor the sort of commerce that makes business enterprises find it worth paying attorneys $400 – $1000 an hour to protect their interests.

In short, let’s stop comparing apples and oranges. Envy is not a basis for policy-making! Like you, Glenn, I sometimes wish I were fresh out of a good law school (as we both once were, if not quite the same law school) and contemplating those starting salaries and bonuses, just for a little while. But those times, for both of us, are rare; life is basically good as a human being, isn’t it? Even human beings with science degrees would agree.

UPDATE:  One Instapundit writes in to suggest a secular reason for the problem:  Legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley.  Well, you can indeed blame the lawyers for that one.

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One Response to “Lawyers cause depressions”

  1. jskirwin said

    Ron
    I think you’re a bit sensitive on the Lawyer thing. He uses lawyers as an example, but I don’t perceive it as bashing. Here’s why.

    Lawyers have to pass bar exams for the states they practice in. This presents a barrier of entry that is quite formidable since it limits competition. Granted I’m sure there are plenty of lawyers in NY, but compare what that number could be if people from Florida or California could work there easily.

    This barrier of entry also prevents foreigners from coming to NY on work visas (H-1b – see my site itpaa.org for more info on that). And you can’t offshore law; granted you can offshore a lot of the grunt work that junior attorneys and paralegals used to do, but lawyers have to meet face to face with people as part of their jobs.

    Now compare that to a java programmer. There is no equivalent to the bar exam; therefore coders in Philly have to compete for Philly jobs with those from around the country. There are about 1.5 million H-1b visa holders in the country, and most of them are involved with IT – so you’re up against tens of thousands of java guys from India and China.

    Then there’s offshoring. Alot of java work gets offshored to Bangalore and Mumbai as well as the Philippines. In essence you are competing with millions.

    Salaries and working conditions are based on supply and demand. If the supply of any profession is limited, salaries will be good, and so will working conditions. However if you can get a java coder on an H-1b for $20/hour, why would you care if your American java guys are making $40? You wouldn’t; you would replace them – until you eventually had a shop filled with H-1bs.

    I’ve seen these places. In fact, I work in these places – entire floors filled with Indian coders speaking Hindi. Here in the Philly area. It’s one reason why I left coding and went into analysis – but 1/2 my team is here from abroad on H-1bs.

    The only way to escape it is to escape IT.

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