Frustration with a blocked invoice

In its early days, the semiconductor industry did not have many customers. Few companies in the 1950s could use the new, expensive devi...


In its early days, the semiconductor industry did not have many customers. Few companies in the 1950s could use the new, expensive devices that kept computers running. But an organization could: the federal government.

The first shipment from Fairchild Semiconductor – the company that helped create Silicon Valley – was for the computers inside the Air Force’s B-70 bomber. The Minuteman missile was also in need of semiconductors soon, as did other Cold War weapon systems and NASA equipment. “It was the government that created the high demand that facilitated the mass production” of semiconductors, as author Fred Kaplan written in slate.

This story is common to the whole history of technological progress. Individual companies often cannot afford to spend much on basic scientific research. Its results are too uncertain for a company to know which research will pay off. In many cases, research that seems likely to benefit one industry ends up benefiting another.

Only the federal government tends to have the resources to make these investments. After that, private companies then use its fruits to develop innovative and profitable products, stimulating economic growth and tax revenue which comfortably cover the cost original research.

The Department of Defense built the original Internet – and Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others extended it. The National Institutes of Health funded lab experiments – and drug companies created treatments based on them, including for Covid-19. There are similar stories in energy, automotive, aviation, and other industries.

In recent decades, however, US investment in research and development has lagged:

The United States now devotes a smaller share of domestic production to research and development than many other countries. China is particularly ambitious in this area, essentially copying the American strategy of building a strong economy, even as the United States has abandoned this strategy.

In the Wall Street Journal this week, Graham Allison, professor at Harvard, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, wrote, “In each of the fundamental technologies of the 21st century – artificial intelligence, semiconductors, wireless 5G, quantum information science, biotechnology and green energy – China may soon be the world leader.”

The semiconductor industry is a particularly interesting case. American companies like Fairchild and Texas Instruments first dominated, followed in the following decades by Intel. But the US semiconductor industry has fallen behind (as explained by Thomas Friedman). American companies make about 12% of the world’s semiconductors, up from 37% in 1990.

“America today makes zero percent of the most sophisticated chips,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo recently told me. “It’s a vulnerability. Taiwanese companies like TSMC make many of the most sophisticated chips, which means a disruption there – hardly out of the question, seen the aggression of China – could disrupt the global economy.

“We need to make more chips in America,” Raimondo said.

In June, the Senate passed a bill that would help make this happen. It would spend nearly $ 250 billion over five years on research and development, including $ 52 billion for semiconductor manufacturers. The main objective is to prevent the United States from falling behind China.

Overall, the bill would increase federal spending on research and development by more than 30%. He passed along bipartite lines, 68 to 32, and President Biden supports it.

But the House has yet to adopt a version and it seems unlikely to do so before the year’s recess. House Democrats have specific concerns about the Senate bill, as the Times’ Catie Edmondson reported. Among them: Is he spending enough money on early stage research – and too much money on de facto grants to private companies like Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space company.

These are reasonable questions to raise. Yet many economists, governors and industry leaders are disappointed that the House and Senate have not figured out how to resolve relatively minor differences and expand federal support for scientific research. “Frankly, it should have been passed by the House some time ago,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, said this week. “It was too slow.”

My colleague Catie told me, “The semiconductor companies have basically pulled their hair out because of this delay. They felt it was a huge triumph when it was passed by the Senate earlier this year and were quite dismayed at how long it took them to put the money in their pockets.

The dysfunction of Congress in recent years has more often caused by republicans than by the Democrats. When Republicans controlled Congress, they disagreed on major issues (like healthcare, immigration, and Covid), and Republicans in Congress disagreed reflexively opposed many proposals from Democratic presidents.

But the delays in passing the research bill – and its potential defeat – stem more from Democratic internal struggles. Even though Democrats control the House, albeit tightly, and the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill months ago, it still hasn’t reached Biden’s office. America’s Global Rivals are undoubtedly encouraged by the dysfunction.

The assault on the best lists in December can be overwhelming. Think of this as a guide for guides.

For music nerds, Pitchfork unveiled his annual list of the best songs. It pairs well with the Times wide range selection of the best albums of the year. Each of our pop music critics made lists, and two albums overlapped on each one: Tyler, “Call Me if You Get Lost” from the creator and “Sour” by Olivia Rodrigo.

In the Book Review’s 10 Best Fiction and Non-Fiction Titles, there are rumors about race in America and intergenerational sagas. Do you want art? Of the many ambitious exhibitions of the year, two cohesive themes were the African American South and climate change. In New York’s Madison Square Park, Maya Lin’s “Ghost Forest” contrasted the park’s greenery with a grove of dead and environmentally damaged Atlantic white cedars. Teenagers reuse wood to make boats.

Another recurring theme was feedback from experiences in person: The fall theatrical season was “as exciting as a child’s first fireworks display,” writes Jesse Green, and the ritual of watching movies on the big screen made even the most mediocre movies glorious, writes Manohla Dargis in his list of the best films.

There was also great tv. Many of our critics’ picks covered topics such as class conflict and pandemics. A personal favorite: “Reservation dogs” a curvy, at times surreal, comedy about four teenagers desperate to escape their Oklahoma reservation. It’s full of details “that can only come from loving the thing you want to leave,” writes James Poniewozik.

Find all the Times the best lists of 2021 here. – Sanam Yar, a morning writer

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was laboratory. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can To play online.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Frustration with a blocked invoice
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