STEM career viability in a winner-take-all society…

Working World Bell JarIn a previous post regarding STEM career viability I promised more installments on my own personal journey as a biomedical scientist.   But we are going to take a brief detour from academic biomedical research and biotech and make a brief stop in Silicon Valley.  The reason for this is to highlight some basic meat and potatoes compensation issues that are trending through many, if not most STEM career tracks.

Yves Smith of Naked Captialism just posted a blog on the justice department response to a massive wage suppression (price-fixing)  conspiracy that has ensnared the likes of Apple, Google, Dell, Dreamworks, Comcast – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The DOJ – All the spine of a wet noodle…

Price-fixing of this nature is clearly against the law and for a very short while it appeared as if the Obama Administration  was actually going grow a set of you-know-what and take on an anti-trust case against these Silicon Valley giants. I must have been delusional to think it would last.  In my own defense,  the evidence against the top brass in these companies  which included CEO to CEO emails was about as damning as it gets.  For example:

… in September 2005, eBay CEO Meg Whitman called Schmidt complaining that Google’s recruiters were hurting profits and business at eBay. Schmidt emailed Google’s “Executive Management Committee”—the company’s top executives— summarizing Whitman’s, and “the valley”’s view that competing for workers by offering higher pay packages was “unfair”

In spite of hitting massive pay-dirt with emails of this nature, the DOJ settled for a “promise” that these mega-giants would mend their ways. Seriously?  I’m not holding my breath on that one.

In a world where our government is literally  shoving STEM career tracks in front of young people, I am floored by their lack of spine when it comes to supporting the ability for employees in these fields to negotiate in good faith for the best wages and terms.   This type of schizophrenic behavior is designed to create a race to the bottom rather than prosperity for all.

So much for the so-called job creators…

The so-called job creators have been blowing their own horns for the last 6.5 years since the great recession started.  According to them, they are the hope for the future of prosperous employment.

But don’t look too closely under the hood. These “job creators” are not the least bit interested in leveling the playing field for talent unless said talent resides within the financial and/or management sectors.   Geeks, geniuses, innovators and inventors (including scientists and engineers) need not apply for “just desserts” compensation.  A job well done may, a project completed may only earn you gratitude and a pink slip.

Once again, the viability issue…

This is the commoditization of highly skilled work that requires years of sacrifice in the educational pipeline and it is not a trivial issue.  As wisely pointed out by Yves Smith, it appears that negotiating massive pay packages is a privilege reserved for the financial elite.  More and more, the scientist, technologist, engineer and programmer are relegated to the ranks of the working stiff with few rights and little upward mobility.

The point here is that in a winner-take-all society, the best and brightest go where the money is.  In a world where there is no security, no social safety net and little compassion, people consider pursuing satisfying innovative careers a luxury they can not afford.  Innovation is sidelined in favor of building a nest-egg using well trodden paths to success.   Winner-take-all economic models are the death knell of innovation as everyone goes to the mattresses all at the same time. Taking risks and breaking new ground becomes a the exclusive domain of the wealthy or/and the totally reckless.

It also highlights that the issues surrounding biomedical science and biotech are not unique to those disciplines.  There is a systemic failure in the US to reward the very career tracks that we are pushing on our young people and that are essential for our prosperity in the 21st century.

© 2014 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved.



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