Let me state that I have immense respect for Harvard’s graduate programs and its stunningly talented corps of graduate students. As far as intellectual capital goes, the university is worth a fortune. They made a very serious error in focusing on rich children of foreign oil barons as opposed to admitting some spectacular economics students from UF recently, but that is another story and another foible.

By way of Alex Ross and Justin Davidson, I came across this news that RMJM (UK-based international architectural firm) donated $1.5 million to, and was matched by $500k in funds by, Harvard University School of Design (HGSD). The ostensible reason was to “stem a ‘brain drain’ in the design and construction industry.” Right. Here’s more:

“Huge growth is predicted in the number of buildings to be constructed over the next 25 years,” says RMJM Chief Executive Peter Morrison, “at a time when a high number of designers who graduate from leading design schools are opting to leave the profession. The loss of architects to other professions is a global problem. Who will design all those buildings?” [Emphasis added.]

You can’t be serious! Sounds good on paper, but let’s take a look at this shall we? In my estimation, it looks like RMJM wanted to make a donation to Harvard, get their name on something, make a splash in the community, so they donated to HGSD. Great. In negotiations over what the money should be used for, they determined that it should have some kind of social welfare bent. Terrific! But the best that they could come up with was a ridiculous farce based on an analysis of the market?

First of all, it’s not the case that we have too few architects. Although it is true that we would have more if we didn’t have useless certification programs and requirements, the market is at a relative equilibrium on this point because the requirements are still not as onerous as those for law and medicine. Additionally, schools all over the world, and especially in the USA, graduate many thousands of architects every single year. So let’s get real about what’s going on: contrary to their assertions, the market is supersaturated with architects! There are just plain too many of them!! That’s why so many graduates don’t practice in the field! This drives the price of their services down and means that they will tend to go to jobs where they may make more money — whether it’s “consulting” as the article odiously remarks or other professions and jobs is irrelevant.

Why can’t a firm donate money towards the development of a skill-based program, not those that have no bearing at all on reality? This donation has nothing to do with social welfare, and in fact, may well make it worse off.

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