It’s true that a country that pays its lawyers a lot better than its scientists and engineers is likely, over time, to have better lawyers than scientists and engineers.
Of course, Glenn knows that “countries” don’t pay lawyers; clients do, and they have a wide, wide range of options in terms of pricing for legal services. And engineers are paid by their private or public employees, as well. He also knows that average salary comparisons are very hard to credit, especially when comparing engineering — a field with a very narrow band of possibilities — with lawyering, where the varieties of professional settings and outcomes varies wildly. There are also many other issues, including lifestyle choices, that decide whether a given person becomes a lawyer or an engineer.
Not that the intersection of potential engineers and potential lawyers is that huge. There are some lawyers who could be engineers instead, but the vast majority of lawyers could’t; they’re not that quantitative. Most engineers are not all that verbally talented, which better lawyers tend to be.
It’s the free market, Instapundit. Countries don’t pay lawyers or engineers, but their constituent elements do. And as they need them, and they put their money on the line to purchase their services. Lawyers must be getting paid what they are getting paid because that’s what the market values their services at, and the same with engineers. A factor: Engineers are far easier to outsource overseas, and to import, than are lawyers. That means we get the engineers we need, and the lawyers we need. And, by the way, a properly functioning legal regime — which may or may not result from our present adversarial litigation and regulatory environment; but then let’s have that discussion, not a lame salary comparison — enables engineers to do their jobs — their employers to take appropriate entrepreneurial risk — and apportions liability for their mistakes in a way that might not be perfect, but which has worked decently well till now.
Remember, no one’s salary is set by his inherent value to society. It is set by what the market, howsoever distorted but still functioning as a fairly competitive one, values the services that person offes compared to the range of possible alternatives. I think it’s harder to become an engineer than to become a lawyer, but it may be harder than either of those to be — and to remain, and to advance as — a very good, and very financially succesful lawyer. That’s why the ones who can do so (and whose outsized financial rewards skew these averages) are rewarded so highly. Only so many people and organizations can manage the corporate, financial, regulatory, and other tasks that makes it possible to build the organizations — frequently transnational — that hire the engineers to build the bridges, dams, laboratories, and even Instapundit obsessions like nanorockets and electrokittens. It takes all types to engineer this nutty world.
UPDATE: Responds Instapundit:
A WHILE BACK, I suggested that lawyers might be overpaid, which led to a stirring dissent from attorney Ronald Coleman. (“It’s the free market, Instapundit.”) He makes some good points, though take it from a member of the cartel: the market’s not that free . . .
Oh, pshaw, Glenn! Maybe the market for law professors isn’t free, but the market for lawyers? Anyway, I’m glad I stirred something, or someone, out there. Perhaps my own clients will be stirred to do something about those aging receivables…
UPDATE: Discussion on the issue. I wish the compensation for all the vitriol being directed at my fellow attorneys and me were the fact that I myself were… well, compensated as well as all those embittered folks out there think lawyers are. Do you, incidentally, know what lawyers really make? And senior software engineers? I don’t have the stats handy, but as I said above, I am quite sure that the spread around that lawyer salary is far greater than around the engineer’s.