Boy, that guy sure is hairy!
I guess it must be about 15 years ago now, when I was the editor of a military electronics publication, that I wrote an editorial opining on Japan’s highly ambitious and targeted competition with the U.S. semiconductor industry. I had just returned from a visit to Japan where I was struck by how many times I had heard company and government representatives report their relative market share, technological advancements, and production accomplishments-not as general data points but specifically in proud comparison to specific U.S. firms. The U.S. industry was the mountain, and the national goal was not to just climb it but surpass it.
Fair enough, but my concern was whether the U.S. semiconductor industry was doing enough to maintain its technological leadership-in fact, enough to maintain a major share of the industry, and from a national defense point of view, enough to maintain both technological leadership and a domestic industrial supply base of critical electronic components for an ever more advanced-electronics-systems-dependent military.
A Japanese magazine editor may well be asking that same question today, not relative to U.S. competition, of course, but to other nations, particularly China. And not necessarily because of any military preparedness concerns, either, but rather national economy, high-tech employment, and general quality-of-life issues.
“Pundits” continually tell us that it’s just the realities of today’s global economy that have lead to overseas transfer of much of our semiconductor manufacturing and technology base. “Good business sense dictates it.” Well, it may well be good business sense for the truly global banking and investment community and the corporate CEOs they manage, but it certainly isn’t any kind of good sense for the domestic employees who developed the technology and built the companies that are now moving elsewhere. It certainly isn’t any kind of good sense for the next generation of domestic, electronics-industry jobseekers, either. Of course, maybe these are just more of those “jobs that Americans don’t want to do.” And it isn’t good sense if you’re at all concerned about maintaining a strong, domestic, high-tech industrial base.
This is not the same competitive situation the U.S. semiconductor industry fought with its counterpart in Japan those few years ago; the objectives are certainly not the same, either. That was fierce competition between free-market companies for growth and market share and between two democratic nations to provide their own countries with a solid economic base and technological leadership. This is a plain old sellout of national resources and capabilities for maximum short-term profits-profits that ultimately end up in the pockets of a few, already cash-flush members of the “global economy” and, of course, their willing flunkies.
I’m certainly not pointing out anything new here. It’s been going on apace for many years. It’s certainly not limited to the semiconductor industry-though it’s fair to say this industry has taken a position at the forefront-nor is it a uniquely U.S. concern. It’s happening throughout the West and Japan as well. But at what point does this stop making sense? Perhaps it’s when the quality of life of the “average” citizen of the “first world” is the same as that of today’s most poverty-stricken third-world nation. Or maybe it’s when we stop ignoring the realities, silently excusing what we are told as the inevitable, and, in fact, stop venerating the “geniuses” orchestrating the sellout.
The truth is it’s become one of those 500 lb. gorillas in the room that no one likes to talk about. Of course, I could also just be one of those naïve alarmists who doesn’t understand the nuances of modern economies. But hey, just thought I’d mention it.