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WHY LAWYERS NOT ENGINEERS
5/11/2007 5:22:58 AM

That causes immense harm to the country. The late Mancur Olson, a political economist famous for digging into root causes, concluded from his studies that two basic factors distinguished better performing economies from poorer performing ones. The first was the presence of a well-defined and effectively enforced set of property rights. The second was the absence of what he termed "predation", by which he meant the predatory practice of those with power using it to appropriate what belongs to others (e.g., by demanding grease or protection money). I should not have to point out that both these factors have to do directly with how well or how poorly the justice system works in a country. In ours, it works poorly. Thus, we can, when asked, legitimately point to lawyers as a root cause of the country's relatively poor economic performance over the years.

It is significant to point out that economic powerhouse Japan probably has the lowest population density of lawyers and the highest population density of engineers in the world. That's not an accident. Rebuilding after World War II, Japanese policy makers deliberately made two critical decisions. One was to concentrate the country's scarce capital resources in the steel industry. The consequence of this decision was that, barely ten years later, Japan had the most technologically- advanced steel plants in the world and it was the world's lowest-cost producer of high-grade steel.

The other decision was to concentrate limited educational resources in the training of engineers. For those who wanted to become engineers and who hurdled tough competitive examinations, access to the best educational facilities and generous full scholarships were provided. In contrast, for those who wanted to become lawyers, educational resources were limited and extremely expensive. As a result, the best and the brightest of Japan's post-war generation flocked to engineering. It is well documented how the proliferation of bright young engineers working right on the shop floors of Japanese manufacturing plants led to revolutionary innovations that allowed Japan, by the 1970s, to surpass the US and become the undisputed world leader in manufacturing process technologies.

Those Japanese decisions did not require tremendous feats of reasoning and could have been similarly arrived at by us with just a little bit of common sense. Engineers create products and therefore jobs and revenues. Lawyers create obstacles and therefore costs. Which is more valuable to a society that wants to progress and prosper?

Let me stress that it is not at all my intention to diminish in any way the achievements of the bright young men and women who passed and topped the recent Bar examinations. Far from it. That achievement is real and valuable and totally deserving of our cheers. I congratulate all of them and sincerely hope that it will be their generation of lawyers who will finally fix the legal system in this country before they are swallowed up by it.

But, good lord, why does our media play up lawyers but not engineers and scientists? Are the decision-makers in media in effect saying that passing law exams are more notable achievements than passing engineering or science exams? By putting Bar topnotchers and their stories on the front pages of our newspapers and not publicizing similar achievements on the part of our young engineers and scientists, is this not sending the message to the high school students still on the verge of choosing course and career that taking law and not engineering or science is the better choice?

And if media is really only echoing the feelings of the community at large, could it be that we are so lacking in common sense that we remain oblivious to the fact that our competitive progress depends not on our lawyers but on our engineers and scientists? Do we not consider it significant that it is these engineers and scientists – and not our lawyers – that other countries are hiring away from us? Can it be that others recognize what is valuable and we, so typically, do not?




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