It’s an article, from Forbes of all places, which explains how our zeal to become a “knowledge economy” is razing our economy to the ground.
They use Dell Computer as an example:
ASUSTeK started out making the simple circuit boards within a Dell computer. Then ASUSTeK came to Dell with an interesting value proposition: “We’ve been doing a good job making these little boards. Why don’t you let us make the motherboard for you? Circuit manufacturing isn’t your core competence anyway and we could do it for 20% less.”
Dell accepted the proposal because from a perspective of making money, it made sense: Dell’s revenues were unaffected and its profits improved significantly. On successive occasions, ASUSTeK came back and took over the motherboard, the assembly of the computer, the management of the supply chain and the design of the computer. In each case Dell accepted the proposal because from a perspective of making money, it made sense: Dell’s revenues were unaffected and its profits improved significantly. However, the next time ASUSTeK came back, it wasn’t to talk to Dell. It was to talk to Best Buy and other retailers to tell them that they could offer them their own brand or any brand PC for 20% lower cost.
It’s an evocative example, and one which is easily understand, but the problem is that it invites the criticism that it’s just another mindless “Yellow Peril” argument.
The meat of the argument, at least to me as an engineer, is further down:
So the decline of manufacturing in a region sets off a chain reaction. Once manufacturing is outsourced, process-engineering expertise can’t be maintained, since it depends on daily interactions with manufacturing. Without process-engineering capabilities, companies find it increasingly difficult to conduct advanced research on next-generation process technologies. Without the ability to develop such new processes, they find they can no longer develop new products. In the long term, then, an economy that lacks an infrastructure for advanced process engineering and manufacturing will lose its ability to innovate.
One of the arguments made by what used to be called “Atari Democrats” in the 1980s was that we could dump all the manufacturing, and then we could all sit behind desks and create the ideas for the lesser (i.e. non-white) people to manufacture.
It’s simply wrong. When you no longer make stuff, you no longer know how to make stuff, and when you no longer know how to make stuff, you can no longer come up with viable ideas.
The question is whether we want to have the German economy, or the Mexican one, and increasingly, it appears that we are trying to achieve the latter, since by making everyone else poorer, it makes the people at the top of the pyramid comparatively richer, and they are the ones who make the big campaign donations.
Read all 4 parts.
H/t DC on Stellar Parthenon BBS.