Curious - Would the U.S benefit from Engineers taking a more active role in Politics?

elgodfather's picture
Rank: Orangutan | 274

I know its not an exciting topic but would really just like to hear the community's opinion.

I recall one of my professors always mentioning how engineers should get more involved politically as we need to tackle so many science related issues climate, energy, and my personal favourite infrastructure. So, why don't they?

Compared to other nations we have the traditional law backgrounds where as most Chinese leaders are scientists or engineers, President Hu Jintao is a hydraulics engineer, Premier Wen Jiabao a geologist and Angela Merkel trained as a physical chemist. In regards to China they obviously aren't the best example as they barely tackled their air pollution issues throughout the years.

Thoughts?

Region: 
China

Comments (38)

Jun 2, 2016

Not really. They usually can't even run a business.

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Jun 2, 2016

What's makes you say they can't even run a business?

Jun 2, 2016
larry david:

Not really. They usually can't even run a business.

Well, considering that engineering is the most common major of Fortune 500 CEOs, you aren't exactly right.

Jun 2, 2016

How many of them have MBAs and are removed from engineering? Pure engineers have a heck of a time with interpersonal skills (not saying finance people don't) which is 100% what politics is.

Best Response
Jun 2, 2016

Anecdotal evidence but 95% of the engineers struggle to engage in unfamiliar social settings. Politics are almost 100% unfamiliar social settings.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

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Jun 2, 2016

Would it be intelligent of us as a nation to elect intelligent people into government leadership positions? Of course. Unfortunately, the reality of our current democracy couldn't be further from that.

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Jun 2, 2016

So would you say our current democracy does/would not support the lets say "movement" of engineers being politically involved?

Curious because I know engineering organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers have been promoting the importance of focusing politically on fixing our infrastructure since the current infrastructure grade is a D etc. but their voice won't be heard without the political figure, get me?

Jun 2, 2016

Oh I gotcha. I would say the general public would support it, but only if it's coming from the voice of a "political" figure. I put that in quotes, because the political part isn't even important anymore. Just take a look at this year's election, it's more about the figure, and by figure I mean character. As in, we have gotten to the point that elections and debates are just like another TV show for the public, where the most grandiose and compelling characters receive the most attention. Have you seen the movie Idiocracy? (If not I highly recommend, really funny movie) It was written satirically about a dystopia 500 years in the future.. The movie is only a decade old but it's looking more and more like an accurate depiction of current day America

Jun 2, 2016

I think in China, though, people are successful in politics after they've done a favor or two for the Party. Pretty sure that would be illegal here. If you're a Chinese engineer working in E&P or steel, you drive your business according to the party's goals and the party will take care of you. You need a high average (think 3.9/4.0) in one of the top areas (key strategic industries) to Chinese growth (energy, steel, mining, etc.), and to network heavy (i.e. graft) and you can easily be admitted to the most prestigious Chinese political party.

Jun 2, 2016

Sometimes I wish I was a geologist. Randy Marsh seems happy with his job.

Jun 2, 2016

LOL

Jun 2, 2016

Because the majority of engineers are technically sound but do not have the management/communication skills necessary to be in politics. They just wouldn't get very far.

Jun 7, 2016
TopChedder:

Because the majority of engineers are technically sound but do not have the management/communication skills necessary to be in politics. They just wouldn't get very far.

Even more importantly (or more accurate), they tend to be honest and with that they just wouldn't get very far

Jun 2, 2016

infrastructure issues is not because of a lack of civil engineers, it's political. civil engineers can build & fix bridges, they can't get budgets through congress. not to say the current process is efficient, but it's not an engineering issue.

I could argue until I'm blue in the face about climate change (won't let on about what side I'm on), but basically you have 3 groups of people: scientists who believe that the climate is changing but that it's part of the earth's natural cycle of climate change (we're in a warm period between ice ages), scientists who believe climate is changing and that yeah humans are exacerbating the problem, and environmentalists who want everyone to drive teslas, use coconut oil as shaving cream, and stop all practices that made us into an industrialized world. the reality is as rational as an engineer is, he/she will still have their opinions, so putting someone with a MS in environmental engineering in the cabinet isn't going to all of a sudden fix everything.

energy? it's not a science issue, it's an economics & environmental issue. some people want us to stop using fossil fuels because they believe it's bad for the environment (usually environmentalists), others want us to stop because they don't think it will last much longer. here's the deal, we have alternative fuel sources, there's just not a lot of buy in. when the model T came out, people still mostly rode trains or other means of transit, until the car because affordable, and then you saw a lot more adoption of that. I believe the same thing will happen with nat gas powered vehicles, electric vehicles, etc., once there's comparable infrastructure as petrol at a similar price, you'll see wider adoption. environmentalists can scream and shout as much as they want, but your average middle class family isn't going to switch to a fuel that costs twice as much just because they think their great great great grandkids might get cleaner air as a result.

also, how is china your example of a perfect government? I could see talking about the budget surplus of norway, the healthcare of (pick a country here, I have no idea), the ease of doing business of the US, etc., but the crony capitalist, corruption laden, GDP-fabricating people's republic? c'mon man.

regardless of how many engineers we get involved, the politicians will push their agenda. look at GMOs, there was a study that was featured in a NYT (or as I call it, bernie sanders daily) article basically saying they're not harmful. the study had lots of engineers/scientists that worked on it, and yet there are still states like vermont pushing for bans of the products if not labelling to deter the average consumer. you can't argue that BP's spill wasn't detrimental to the gulf ecosystem, but where do you put the engineers? on the rigs to fix the process to prevent spills? or closer to the shore in the form of environmental guys because they believe all offshore rigs are death traps. these aren't easy questions, sounds like your prof is a bit egotistical (likely an engineer) if he thinks that a few guys who know thermodynamics can solve all the country's problems.

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Jun 2, 2016

Thanks for the detailed response!

Just a few things I was no where saying China is a perfect government I was just using them as an example of having various leaders from STEM backgrounds.

And I am widely aware that the infrastructure issues are not because of a lack of civil engineers which is not what I said originally; maybe I could have been a bit more descriptive in the post.

My thought was in terms of lets say If engineers were more active in politics could some of our issues have been avoided, like maybe they would have been recognized earlier etc?

Like in your statement "regardless of many engineers get involved, the politicians will push their agenda" but if the engineers were in the politicians seats will they have the same agenda?

Apologies if I'm just throwing out scenarios just really curious on the topic. I don't religiously keep up with politics.

And lol you may be right about the prof, unfortunately I didn't ask him more about his opinion.

Jun 6, 2016
thebrofessor:

I could argue until I'm blue in the face about climate change (won't let on about what side I'm on)

I think I can make a good guess, based on this comment

happy to give advice; no asking for referrals please

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Jun 6, 2016

touche

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Jun 2, 2016

Ideally political leaders should be looking at the forest, not the trees.

Jun 4, 2016

I don't buy the "All Engineers have poor social skills". My background if from Engineering, and we were a mixed bunch. Some very social and outspoken, most "normal", and some that were outright anti-social. But the one quality that almost everyone shared was a healthy dose of scepticism. Engineers are usually very analytical people, and more often than not sense bullshit. That is something that can be viewed negatively in a social situation, as you can come off as aggressive and threatening. No one likes being corrected every other second, or having someone question everything you say.

But as for politics? It depends. Most Engineers I know tend to either be quite liberal or very conservative, almost no middle-ground. When you're a politician you have to do compromises....Engineers hate compromises.

Jun 4, 2016

Definitely agree with you in terms of the compromises. But when you say that engineers more often than not sense bullshit; I wouldn't say its just can be viewed negative because can't it also be used to an advantage in a political setting, shutting down opponents, being viewed as a strong leader by the public etc?

Jun 5, 2016

It's not the problems with engineers. It's the problem with fucking population that is generally brain dead who vote for politicians. In the end, more people would see someone who appears more confident and is able to speak smoothly in public as more intelligent that someone who's highly technical but could be awkward in public.

Honestly though, this stereotype that engineers are more socially awkward is dumb. Every single one of my engineering friends are extremely bright and also social. The thing is, they prefer spending time solving issues, than leading a pack of morons who would never understand any issues.

I do think more involvement of engineers with will make the world better. Unfortunately I can't really see it happening in this world with broken system that is filled with idiots.

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Jun 5, 2016

+1

Jun 5, 2016

I'm assuming you mean people with an engineering background as opposed to practicing engineers (the later would be ridiculously out of their depth). In such case, their skill and success as a politician is still mainly dictated by their professional and leadership experience, as opposed to their brilliance as an engineer. Assuming they have this experience, more varied backgrounds are usually a good thing.

Jun 5, 2016

I would say yes. I was just talking about this with someone. The legal/finance profession are much more about keeping the status quo and the same social stratification (of which they'd be near the top), whereas engineers would focus on real solutions to the countries problems. Look at Silicon Valley - they are driven more by actual innovation and finding solutions as opposed to how to collect more rents over on the east coast (Law/Finance).

Jun 6, 2016
Predilection:

I would say yes. I was just talking about this with someone. The legal/finance profession are much more about keeping the status quo and the same social stratification (of which they'd be near the top), whereas engineers would focus on real solutions to the countries problems. Look at Silicon Valley - they are driven more by actual innovation and finding solutions as opposed to how to collect more rents over on the east coast (Law/Finance).

Tech also has a large bias towards grandiose ideas with no practical application or commercial viability, whereas law/finance is much more pragmatic.

Not that we should be polarizing it as one or the other, but I would prefer pragmatism over idealism.

Jun 6, 2016

well an engineer can always learn about economics or politics later, but the other way around not so common
can see a congressmen learning how to build networks or code app

Jun 6, 2016

engineers spend too much time earning their degree to justify wasting it on a career in politics

Jun 6, 2016

Sure, adding more diversity in politics would benefit everyone. However, to think that having a majority would significantly improve things I think is a bit asinine.

Jun 6, 2016

Alot of my engineering friends are smart and analytical, but lack critical thinking. They lose track of the big picture and don't have the character and charisma needed in politics. From anecdotal evidence, they have a hard time communicating and presenting effectively and aren't able to shape their image/personality to adapt to different environments.

Jun 6, 2016

There is also the misconception that politicians are incompetent/clueless. In reality, they are natural leaders coming from law, business(finance) and also the military and have a good idea how political system works

Jun 7, 2016
sophtrading123:

There is also the misconception that politicians are incompetent/clueless. In reality, they are natural leaders coming from law, business(finance) and also the military and have a good idea how political system works

No, that is not a misconception. I would say the majority of them are just salespeople with an unquenchable desire for attention; a physical/mental need to be liked by the masses and heralded for nonsense

Jun 7, 2016

Our politicians don't need to be smart whatsoever to get elected (or at least come close to getting elected). That's a serious problem! Yes, while engineers in general may not possess the best social savvy, they are at least intelligent and have a stronger understanding of the complex scientific issues that are being debated in our political realm. We could absolutely benefit with more engineers in politics. I'm not saying that our president needs to be some robot-building geek, but it wouldn't hurt to have a few of those robot-building geeks advising our president on major issues such as renewable energy development.

Jun 8, 2016

It might give you some hope that at least two department heads are physicists. Ash Carter the Secretary of Defense and Ernest "greatest flow ever" Moniz the Secretary of Energy.

Speaking completely anecdotally, I have a couple views on engineers in politics:
1. Yes, we could use more rational, analytical thinkers in government rather than stooges who depend on emotional appeals.
2. After working several years in tech consulting, I can tell you that there are many engineers and developers who are also highly personable and have great EQ.
3. I also lived in DC for 8+ years and most of the engineers I know would be completely out of their depth in the social/political scene. The comment that someone already made about engineers being too honest and having bad poker faces/low tolerance for bullshit is much more accurate and relevant than the whole "engineers are anti-social weirdos" stereotype. Decorum and finesse are more important than anything else in politics and engineers are generally blunt people.

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Jun 8, 2016
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Jun 8, 2016