Dale W. Jorgenson
Dr. Jorgenson, Chairman of the National Academies Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP), gave a brief history of the organization. STEP was formed a decade ago for the purpose of bringing economics to the National Research Council more directly. Economics had been part of the National Academies’ structure for about 25 years, but studies done at the National Research Council—which has a mandate to advise the federal government on issues related to science and technology—did not exploit the potential of economics. Creation of the Board was proposed by Dr. Jorgenson, George Hatsopoulos, long-time Chairman of Thermo-Electron Corporation, and Ralph Landau, a leading chemical engineer who is a faculty member at Stanford University and a fellow at the Kennedy School.
Since its formation under the chairmanship of Michael Spence, a 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, STEP has published more than 20 volumes, including U.S. Industry in the Year 2000: Studies in Competitive Performance, edited by Dr. David Mowery of the University of California at Berkeley. This volume, said Dr. Jorgenson, provided a healthy antidote to “declinism,” which he described as a literature of the mid-1980s in economics and history that focused on the perceived decline of U.S. industry. Declinism was the focus of a major study of U.S. industry at MIT, resulting in a book entitled Made in America.1 The thesis of the book was that the United States had lost much of its edge in manufacturing, had been surpassed by Japan and other countries, and had entered a period of decline.
By the time U.S. Industry in 2000 was published, said Dr. Jorgenson, the dozen or so industries it surveyed had regained lost ground or avoided decline altogether. The U.S. semiconductor industry was conspicuous among these and had by then attained a very strong position relative to its counterparts abroad. That industry was the subject of a chapter written by Dr. Mowery and two colleagues. They showed that the industry had come under severe competitive attack in the mid-1980s. By the end of the decade of the 1990s, however, it had returned to international pre-eminence. The speed of that recovery, said Dr. Jorgenson, was “a very important reason for focusing now on that industry.”
Dr. Jorgenson introduced Dr. Kenneth Flamm of the University of Texas as the person who had taken the lead in studying the economic impact of the semiconductor industry. Dr. Flamm had demonstrated “to the satisfaction of economists” that the semiconductor industry had been the key force in the revival of the competitive strength of industries related to information technology. Of the successful industries identified in U.S. Industry in 2000, well over half had been transformed by the use of information technology, which, in turn, depends on developments in semiconductor technology. This, he said, is another reason to try to understand the semiconductor industry and its future contribution to the economy.
Dr. Jorgenson then turned to his own research and that of colleagues at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Brookings Institution. He described a “growing realization” that information technology is a driving force in the U.S. economy, and he said that the revival of the U.S. economy from its current recession depends heavily on the future of the semiconductor industry. He noted that the semiconductor industry was in the midst of its own severe cyclical contraction, which was even more pronounced than the slowdown of the economy. It had experienced at least three, and possibly four, other downturns during the business expansion that began around 1991 and ended at the end of 2000.
During a 10-year period in which the U.S. economy was generally expanding and the unemployment rate falling, the semiconductor industry was subject to severe cyclical downturns, with the present one being the deepest. One assumption about these downturns is that they are related to a special feature of the industry: its exceptionally high rate of technical progress. The growth of the industry periodically exceeds the capacity of the economy to absorb its products2—until this overhang eventually self-corrects in a painful fashion. Hence the industry creates complex challenges for its managers and substantial ripple effects throughout the economy.