Discover more from Letters from an American
February 23, 2023
At Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service today, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke on “The CHIPS Act and a Long-term Vision for America’s Technological Leadership.” She outlined what she sees as a historic opportunity to solidify the nation’s global leadership in technology and innovation and at the same time rebuild the country’s manufacturing sector and protect national security.
Congress passed the CHIPS and Science Act in August 2022 by a bipartisan vote, directing more than $52 billion into research and manufacturing of semiconductor chips as well as additional scientific research. Scientists in the U.S. developed chips, and they are now in cars, appliances, and so on. But they are now manufactured primarily in East Asia. The U.S. produces only about 10% of the world’s supply and makes none of the most advanced chips.
That dependence on overseas production hit supply chains hard during the pandemic while also weakening our national security. The hope behind the CHIPS and Science Act was that a significant government investment in the industry would jump-start private investment in bringing chip manufacturing back to the U.S., enabling the U.S. to compete more effectively with China. In the short term, at least, the plan has worked: by the end of 2022, private investors had pledged at least $200 billion to build U.S. chip manufacturing facilities.
Today, Raimondo framed the CHIPS and Science Act as an “incredible opportunity” to enable the U.S. to lead the world in technology, “securing our economic and national security future for the coming decades.” In the modern technological world, “it’s the countries who invest in research, innovation, and their workforces that will lead in the 21st century,” she said.
Raimondo described the major investment in semiconductor technology and its manufacture as a public investment in the economy that rivals some of the great investments in our history. She talked of Abraham Lincoln’s investment in agriculture in the 1860s to cement the position of the U.S. as a leader in world grain production, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman’s investment in scientific innovation to develop nuclear technology, and John F. Kennedy’s investment in putting a man on the moon.
Each of those massive investments sparked scientific innovation and economic growth. Raimondo suggested that “the CHIPS and Science Act presents us with an opportunity to make investments that are similarly consequential for our nation’s future.”
The vision Raimondo advanced was not one of top-down creativity. Instead, she described the extraordinary innovation of the silicon industry in the 1960s as a product of collaboration between university scientists, government purchasing power, and manufacturing. Rather than dismissing manufacturing as a repetitive mechanical task, she put it at the heart of innovation as the rapid production of millions and millions of chips prompted engineers to tweak manufacturing processes a little at a time, constantly making improvements.
“This relentless pace of lab-to-fab[rication] and fab-to-lab innovation became synonymous with America’s tech leadership,” she said, “doubling our computing capacity every two years.” As the U.S. shipped manufacturing jobs overseas, it lost this creative system. At the same time, inability to get chips during the pandemic hamstrung the U.S. economy and left our national security dependent for chips on other countries, especially China.
Reestablishing manufacturing in the U.S. will spark innovation and protect national security. It will also create new well-paying jobs for people without a college degree both in construction and in the operations of the new factories. With labor scarce, Raimondo called for hiring and training a million women in construction over the next decade, as well as bringing people from underserved communities into the skilled workforce to create “the most diverse, productive, and talented workers in the world.”
Raimondo warned that the vision she laid out would be hard to accomplish, but “if we—as a nation—unite behind a shared objective…and think boldly,” we can create a new generation of innovators and engineers, develop the manufacturing sector and the jobs that go with it, rebuild our economy, and protect our national security.
Just “think about what's possible 10 years from now if we are bold,” she said.
Later, Raimondo told David Ignatius of the Washington Post: “This is more than just an investment to subsidize a few new chip factories…. We need to unite America around a common goal of enhancing America’s global competitiveness and leading in this incredibly crucial technology.… Money isn’t enough. We all need to get in the same boat as a nation.”
Part of the impetus for the bipartisan drive to jump-start the semiconductor industry is lawmakers’ determination to counter the rise of China, which has invested heavily in its own economy. As the U.S. seeks to swing the Indo-Pacific away from its orientation toward China, Raimondo will travel to India next month to talk about closer economic ties between the U.S. and India, including collaboration in chip manufacturing as India, Japan, and Australia are launching their own joint semiconductor initiative.
For the Biden administration, the investment in chips and all the growth and innovation it promises to spark, especially among those without college degrees, is also an attempt to unite the nation to move forward. Theirs is a heady vision of a nation that works together in a shared task, as Lincoln’s United States did, or FDR’s, or JFK’s.
Their orientation toward the future, growth, and prosperity is a striking contrast to the vision of today’s Republicans, who look backward resolutely and angrily to an imagined past. In the short term, many of them continue to relitigate the 2020 presidential election, long after the Big Lie that Trump won has been debunked and the rest of the country has moved on.
In the New York Times yesterday, Luke Broadwater and Jonathan Swan reported that one of the reasons House speaker Kevin McCarthy handed access to more than 40,000 hours of video from the U.S. Capitol from January 6, 2021, to Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson was that McCarthy had promised the far right that he would revisit that event but did not want to have the Republican Congress tied to the effort. His political advisors say swing voters want to move forward.
In the longer term, today’s Republicans are out of step with the majority of Americans on issues like LGBTQ rights, climate change, gun safety, and abortion. Although Republicans are pushing draconian laws to end all abortion access, today Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, released a report showing that 64% of Americans say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while only 25% say it should be illegal in most cases and only 9% say it should be illegal in all cases. Less than half the residents in every state and in Washington, D.C., supported overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, as the Supreme Court did with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision of last June.
In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, yesterday, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) echoed Trump’s “American Carnage” inaugural address with his description of today’s America as one full of misery and hopelessness. Florida governor Ron DeSantis traveled this week to New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago to insist those Democratic-led cities were crime-ridden, although as human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid pointed out, Florida has a 19% higher rape rate, 66% higher murder rate, and 280% higher burglary rate than New York.
Another study released yesterday by the Anti-Defamation League, which specializes in civil rights law, noted that domestic extremist mass killings have increased “greatly” in the past 12 years. But while murders by Islamic extremists, for example, have been falling, all the extremist killings in 2022 were committed by right-wing adherents, with 21 of 25 murders linked to white supremacists.
President Biden’s poll numbers are up to 46% in general and 49% with registered voters. Perhaps more to the point is that in Tuesday’s four special elections, Democrats outperformed expectations by significant margins.
There are many reasons for these Democratic gains—abortion rights key among them—but it is possible that voters like the Democrats’ vision of a hopeful future and a realistic means to get there rather than Republicans’ condemnation of the present and vow to claw back a mythological past.