To the Editor of the New York Times
The article 'Academia Dissects the Service Sector...' (April 18, 2006, page C1) was interesting for what it omits. Attempts by American universities to develop interdisciplinary approaches to coping with economic globalization – aided by willing multinationals with their own idled engineers – is unconvincing. Beneath the sophistry that an ever more “complex” economy requires ever more “complex solutions” to keep high-value jobs at home is the simple truth of increasing global unemployment. When the current fever of wage arbitrage between nations is over, this is is the real problem with economic globalization which every nation, no matter how “developed”, will need to face – witness Europe and restive France.
Simply put, increasingly less people are needed to provide the goods we need (or think we need); and “service science” engineers are essentially working on having even less people perform services! The irony would be amusing if it were not so tragic. I would call your attention to Jeremy Rifkin's 1995 book 'The End of Work' where these issues are discussed in depth with far more relevancy. I welcome universities trying to train engineers to think more broadly about economic problems – but they would help more by taking a few courses in economics and thinking more deeply before trying to “optimize” the service sector.
Research Associate, University of Colorado, Boulder