Shooting ourselves in the foot
By Scott Sumner
The US government’s attempt to stop the rise of Huawei may end up hurting our own technology industry:
One big unknown surrounding the new Huawei rule—which the chip industry’s lawyers are busily unpacking—is whether, under it, equipment manufactured at American firms’ overseas facilities counts as “American”. If so, advanced chipmaking factories that rely on such kit to fabricate cutting-edge chips for Huawei, as tsmc does, will need alternative suppliers. The American toolmakers’ Japanese rivals, such as Tokyo Electron and Hitachi High-Technologies, suddenly find themselves with a new geopolitical competitive edge. . . .
On May 18th the boss of Samsung Electronics toured his company’s new chip factory in Xian, a city in central China. The South Korean firm, which plans to invest $115bn in its chipmaking business over the next decade, has made it clear that it will not ignore China. America’s export controls may prompt it to kit out its foundries with equipment that will not fall foul of Sino-American geopolitics.
Chip-industry insiders report that semiconductor equipment is already being marketed inside China as “ear free”—meaning Chinese buyers need not worry about the “export administration regulations” that the Trump administration is using to attack Huawei. A person close to American toolmakers says some of them are thinking about moving their patents abroad to rebuild operations from scratch away from America’s jurisdiction, in order to circumvent present and future anti-Chinese restrictions. Mr Trump’s attempt to de-Sinify the semiconductor industry may do more to de-Americanise it instead.
PS. I’ve done several posts on the effect of lockdowns on the economy. This study caught my eye:
The problem with reopening is that while lockdowns are easing, customers aren’t returning. New research led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty finds that business reopenings aren’t enough to lure shoppers worried about the virus. In states that reopened early, such as Minnesota, spending hasn’t picked up more robustly than in states that stayed closed longer, like neighboring Wisconsin. And spending fell the most before lockdown orders went into effect, suggesting consumers were locking themselves down because of health concerns, a trend that seems to be continuing even as restrictions ease.
This doesn’t mean lockdowns have no economic effect, or are a good idea. But it does suggest they aren’t the main problem with the economy.