Michael H. Best
Center for Industrial Competitiveness, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, USA
For the pattern is more than the sum of the threads; it has its own symbolic design of which the threads know nothing.
(Arthur Koestler 1)
In 1987, America's Defense Science Board, a governmental advisory board of distinguished scientists, claimed that the United States was in the lead in only three of more than a dozen critical semiconductor technologies (Economist 1995 : 4). America's semiconductor industry was suffering. It was symbolic. The loss in industrial leadership was not expected in high-tech industries. Scientific research in the great industrial laboratories of AT&T, DuPont, General Electric, IBM, and Xerox was not being converted into a stream of commercially successful products. Many warned of a 'hollowing out' of American industry given the capability of the Japanese model to engage in rapid new product development, absorb technologies, diffuse innovations, and achieve new comprehensive production performance standards. Manufacturing firms that had built American industry, such as General Electric and Westinghouse, were downsizing and outsourcing manufacturing and diversifying into financial services and the media.
But by 1996, the United States had established a dominant position in microprocessor chips (the most technologically complex semiconductor) and a strong leadership position in personal computers, telecommunications including internet-related activities, and software. Sales of US information and communication technology (ICT)-related industries increased by four times more than that of Japanese ICT-related industries between 1990 and 1995 (Economist 1997). 2 Similar tales of new or renewed industrial leadership can be told of the life sciences complex of sectors including biotech and medical devices, advanced materials including nanotechnology, and