Tuesday, June 9, 2009

China Governed by Engineers, America by Lawyers

An article from last month's Economist about professional paths to the top sheds light on a major problem facing the United States:

"The prevalence of lawyers in America’s ruling elite (spotted by a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the 1830s) is stronger than ever. Mr Obama went to Harvard Law School (1988-91); his cabinet contains Hillary Clinton (Yale Law, 1969-73) as secretary of state, Eric Holder (Columbia Law, 1973-76) as attorney-general, Joe Biden (Syracuse University law school, 1965-68) as vice-president and Leon Panetta (Santa Clara University law school, 1960-63) as director of the CIA. That’s the tip of the iceberg. Over half of America’s senators practised law."

"President Hu, in contrast, is a hydraulic engineer (he worked for a state hydropower company). His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was an electrical engineer, who trained in Moscow at the Stalin Automobile Works. The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, specialised in geological engineering. The senior body of China’s Communist Party is the Politburo’s standing committee. Making up its nine members are eight engineers, and one lawyer. This is not a relic of the past: 2007 saw the appointments of one petroleum and two chemical engineers. The last American president to train as an engineer was Herbert Hoover."
I call lawyers the sand in the gears of the economy.


Anonymous said...


freude bud said...

If you take a look at what's going on in China just now in terms of their data--insofar as Beijing is outlawing all private production of data and cooking the rest--it doesn't seem to me that engineers are any worse at sophistical number crunching than, say, lawyers. (Hell, all you have to do is look at all those water projects across the ole USofA to see that!) Do you truly prefer the Politburo to the Congress?

It's odd that you've put lawyers in your cross hairs when it's pretty clear that the folks misleading everyone were the bankers, economists, and accountants.

CP said...

I agree with you about Chinese data quality.

I think you are missing the point of my post. It's not that I like Politburo or that I think lawyers exclusively caused the problem.

(Although, note that Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman & CEO of Goldman Sachs received a J.D. from Harvard Law School.)

The point is that a society of engineers is going to eat a society of lawyers for breakfast.

Like your blog by the way.