Cold war 2.0 will be a race for semiconductors, not arms

This morning’s Observer column:

Computers need chips. But what that increasingly means is that nearly everything needs chips. How come? Because computers are embedded in almost every device we use. And not just in things that we regard as electronic. One of the things we learned during the pandemic was that cars and tractors need chips – simply because their engine-control units are basically small, purpose-built computers. Once Covid-19 hit car sales, semiconductor manufacturers switched their production lines to serve other – much bigger – customers. And then, as things started to return to normal in 2021, car manufacturers discovered that they had slipped to the back of the semiconductor queue – and their production lines ground to a halt. Similarly for microwave cookers, washing machines and refrigerators.

In the decades when the west was still high on the globalisation drug, the fact that things upon which we relied were manufactured elsewhere didn’t seem to bother us…

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