Engineers' Syndrome - Bill Gates has an extreme case

I first read about Engineers' Syndrome here. I've encountered this condition in many fellow engineers that I have worked with. I was even afflicted with the condition for quite a few years. Calling it "Engineers' Syndrome" seems appropriate.

So what is Engineers' Syndrome? I couldn't find a precise definition so I'll attempt to give my own.

Engineers' Syndrome

Description: a psychological condition typically found in a person with a math and science background (i.e engineer) where the person absurdly believes that almost any problem - social, political, financial, etc. - can be analyzed, mathematically modeled, and solved using engineering principles.

Causes: The condition develops due to a number of reasons. During college an engineer takes many courses related to math, science, design, and technology. The engineer is not usually exposed to in depth courses related to natural law, free market economics, or philosophy. Once out of college, a successful engineer will continue to develop his/her analytical skills by working on complex physical systems. Designing and troubleshooting these systems requires honed problem solving skills. The engineer starts to believe that these problem solving skills can be applied to all problems. Afflicted engineers also spend little time studying areas concerning human behavior since the engineer believes he/she could quickly educate someone on the correct logic to use when making any decision.

Symptons: It's difficult to quickly ascertain who has the disease. The best way is to listen to conversation that occurs between engineers. An extreme case of the syndrome will be analyzed below.

Some things I have actually heard that indicate someone has the condition:
"I will always be able to get a job because I'm smart and I can solve problems. It doesn't matter what the problem is - I can solve it."
"The volatility of financial markets can be minimized by using control theory to model the market as a 2nd order system."
"All political expenditures should be analyzed using a cost/benefit analysis."
"I would never buy gold. It has no value since it does not produce anything useful."
Cures: A single cure has not been found to remedy all cases. In order for an engineer to be cured the engineer must develop a curiosity outside of his domain - a curiosity about human behavior and morality. Once this intrigue develops the engineer will find ample resources that explain such concepts as subjective value, diminishing marginal utility, market panics, natural law, human action, etc. The engineer will then discover that there are many instances where it is impossible to mathematically model human behavior.

Bill Gates is severely infected

Here is a recent speech Gates gave regarding state budgets and how they affect education:

The speech can be summarized as follows:
  1. Most US states are broke. States must now choose which programs to fund and which to cut.
  2. States would have to cut education spending in half to meet health care entitlements. Bill presents this as "The Old vs The Young" (approx 5:53 into the video).
  3. Bill says there is no "brain trust" looking at how to solve this problem. Bill says the problem of state spending is left up to the voters. Bill is implying that smart people, not voters, are needed to solve this problem.
  4. Bill says this is a "solvable" problem (approx 9:20 into the video). He also states that education should not be cut.
This next video is a more candid look at how Bill would use his engineering problem solving skills to fix the state budget problem regarding spending on health care versus education:

Bill states that the hard decision has to be made between keeping grandma alive or hiring more teachers. It seems like Bill would have no problem making that decision (i.e. pull the plug on grandma). Bill is advocating that smart people, like himself, are capable of allocating resources for everyone to what he believes is their most effective use. This is where Engineers' Syndrome leads you - to depraved, socialist, central planning. This is not only impossible but more importantly immoral. Here is an idea Bill: give me back all the money that is stolen from me by the government and let me decide how to spend it. Some decisions are not easy but I would like to be the one making the decisions with my money - not you or any other government bureaucrat. You will also be pleasantly surprised Bill by how affordable both health care and education become once the government gets out of those areas. I may not even have to make many hard decisions.


  1. This article started out as interesting then degenerated into a bit of a bizarre, non-sequitur rant about single payer health care systems ?!?!

    You realize that us "less taxes please" small c conservatives up here in "death panel" countries like Canada and the UK spend less tax payer money per capita on health care than more "free market" regimes like the States?

    It's not arm chair theory -- look at the OECD numbers, and choose cheap! The longevity and general health outcomes are the same or better in death panel land.

    There's no point hoping for an efficient free market system in a domain like healthcare where the consumer is not an impartial, informed decision maker.

    Let me rephrase and answer the classic libertarian question: if there's three of us on an island, and we can either force each other to all pay for something, or if one of you feels on principle you shouldn't be forced, we all have to pay more: damn right I'll force you to pay less before I allow your short-sighted 'libertarian' principles to force all of us to pay more in the end.

    Sorry to rant back, but I hate it when healthcare industry lobbyists from the "wild west" parts of the world ride off sentiments like yours to try to increase their market share at my expense.

    Other than that, great article!

    1. Actually, I see now that you were being 'meta' at the end by claiming (as an engineer, I presume) to better know how to spend health care and education dollars -- kinda like BillG.

      I get it now, nice troll. Sorry.

    2. " where the consumer is not an impartial, informed decision maker." How do you determine this? How do you measure this impartiality and ignorance and measure it compared to other markets?

  2. Yes, this was somewhat believable until all credence suddenly disappears at the end. It's awesome to be libertarian until your the one whose kid has bone cancer. Way to go.


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