Letters 05/06/2010

May 3, 2010
Most readers seem to believe in free markets. But would they turn down a government bailout?

Free markets and innovation
Most readers seem to believe in free markets. But would they turn down a government bailout? Readers also want to see their companies innovate and do it more intelligently.

Free the free market
It appears you don’t believe we should use free markets to allocate resources (“The myth of free markets,” March 16). Perhaps you believe socialism is the answer? That’s certainly been tried several places and doesn’t work at all. Surely we should have learned that from the demise of the Soviet Union.

As a manufacturer, we experience free markets working every day, both on the sales side as well as the purchasing side of the business.

Wise up!

Harold E. Hamilton

When foreign countries provide significant incentives and breaks for their manufacturers that we don’t match, that’s not a free market. That is a situation where the deck is stacked against us. All John Hofmeister is saying is that we should provide the same kinds of incentives to our manufacturers that other countries provide to theirs, and I would have to agree with that idea. — Leland Teschler

What the government needs to do is let people keep the money they earn, not redistribute it. Laissez faire capitalism means “hands off” business. No government assistance or discouragement. Every time the government gets involved in picking winners, they usually fail. For example, take a look at GM. It’s now backed by the government. Do you really think they are doing well?

There was a time in America when respectable citizens (legal or not) did not expect unearned subsidies. They shared a sense of self-responsibility and would not accept handouts. Apparently, manufacturing is now so impoverished from being looted that it expects handouts. Until this handout mentality is eradicated, our country will have a problem.

If you really want to know what the problem is, read Atlas Shrugged.

Paul L.

The free market is a myth? It certainly is! Princeton University publishes this definition of laissez faire: “The doctrine that government should not interfere in commercial affairs.”

Does noninterference include nontaxation? As Chief Justice Marshall wrote, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

If these other countries are taxing less (giving tax breaks) and regulating less, then they are more free market than the U.S.

Rick B.

The road to innovation
I would agree with this editorial (“Most innovation isn’t innovative,” Feb. 18) except for the assertion that corporations haven’t already enjoyed massive tax reductions. The truth is that corporations make up an ever-shrinking proportion of federal revenues, while individual taxpayers have made up the difference. And yet we still have had a mass exodus of manufacturing jobs from this country. If the great destroyers of wealth that run our corporations today continue, our “lost decade” might turn into a “lost century.”

Democracy is based on representation and corporations can afford to have most of it. The fastest growing wealth-redistribution system in the world is the corporate lobby. Sending jobs offshore has much more to do with incentives given to executives than government policy. A little smoke and mirrors to the balance sheet and “voila” we have high stock valuations.

Robert Finn

Managers need to hire innovative people if they want to get innovative ideas. But innovative people will be dreamers and tinkerers who often make mistakes and are not rigorous in their documentation or calculations. They refuse to wear the blinders required to complete day-to-day tasks. They become obsessed with ideas and work in bursts. If they can be paired with detail-obsessed workers who will document and keep projects on track, companies will get good products.

Unfortunately, we are plagued with managers who traded imagination for ambition and got ahead through aggression and checking boxes. These people create innovation programs that require committee approval before each step, so only the safest and most-obvious changes ever get through.

While I wouldn’t argue with Prof. Verganti’s opinion that focus groups and step-wise processes do not necessarily lead to innovation, I’m hopeful his view about relying on a few visionaries was misstated. Visionaries are no better guides to innovation than interacting with customers. Steve Jobs, for example, has had his share of failures. When visionaries do not agree, how do you pick the “right” one? Managers need to acknowledge that uncertainty is a constant they must continue to test their hypotheses during innovation to ensure they aren’t seeing what they want to see. I refer readers to any of the works by Nassim Talib (e.g., The Black Swan) and also The Strategy Paradox by Michael E. Raynor.

Paul Madden

A cure for the PE problem?
Regarding the ongoing series of letters concerning whether to get your PE, several have expressed how it seems impossible to get a PE without the required “apprenticeship” of working under a PE. I’m sure their state’s licensing board explicitly calls for such an apprenticeship, plus references from active PEs, as does mine.

However, have any of these people tried to apply without it? I and an associate did. As EEs, working at a large electronics-manufacturing firm, we’d hardly ever met a PE. With over 1,000 engineers in the company, we still couldn’t find even a PE. So we applied anyway, with the applications accompanied by an appeal letter detailing our difficulty in meeting the exact requirements. We also pointed out the chicken-and-egg dilemma, noting that if they truly wanted to license EEs it would be necessary to accommodate applicants such as us.

In short, it worked. (In reading the minutes of the meeting that considered our applications, I did note one dissenting vote, but the majority was in favor.) We were seated for the exam, and are now PE’s. In the two years since, three others from our company have gotten their PE licenses the same way. While other state’s licensing boards might not be so reasonable, I’m sure many are. You won’t know until you ask.

Gary A. Crowell, P.E.

Your readers seem to have one chief complaint about PE licensing: The process is too lengthy, complicated, and unfair. Well boo hoo.

Since when were all doctors, lawyers, and engineers created equal. Yes, you will have good ones and bad ones. Why not become a great one? And, based upon my short research, the process to become a PE is clear. I expect it to be hard. If it was quick and easy, I would be worried about the next bridge I crossed.

Becoming a licensed PE does not tell everyone you are the best at your job. Rather, it says you are committing to the public that you will hold yourself to a higher set of standards, both professionally and ethically, than your peers. You are committing your engineering career to one of further education and development. You are putting others always in front of yourself.

I challenge you and your readers to read both the Code of Ethics for Engineers and the Engineers’ Creed from the National Society of Professional Engineers.

While I have not yet formed an opinion about states mandating PE licensing, I do hope my humble thoughts will help others understand the great responsibility all Professional Engineers place upon themselves.

Anthony Gleaton

You omitted several other reader complaints. Many say the licensing tests are irrelevant to their engineering disciplines. And others say the requirements are often impossible to meet. For example, if there are no PEs in their companies, how can they be supervised by one? You also draw the incorrect conclusion that just because you have a PE license, you hold yourself to a higher set of standards and ethics than non-PE licensed engineers do. — Editor

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