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科技相關 商業評論

農業化的半導體產業

本期經濟學人花了不少的篇幅,談論到全球的半導體產業。

該篇文章的作者認為:被多數國家視為先進科技象徵的半導體產業,其實本質上越來越像人類最古老的一個傳統產業 — 農業。

這個比喻我覺得十分恰當且精采絕倫:

…However, the industry’s own economics are also to blame. Even without the world’s wider troubles, these would have caused problems. In explaining how, Dan Hutcheson, chief executive of VLSI Research, a consultancy, likens semiconductor manufacturing to a different industry: farming. Investment decisions have to be made long before products can be sold. Chip farmers have to spend billions and wait years before they can start etching circuits onto “wafers”, those thin disks of semiconductor material, the size of pizzas, which are sliced into hundreds of chips at the end of the production process.

This goes a long way towards explaining why chipmakers, like farmers, have a tendency to oversupply the market, particularly if they sell memory chips, an undifferentiated product (like winter wheat). Even if prices fall below costs, they have an interest in keeping their fabs humming, in order not to lose their heavy upfront investment and to recover the variable costs. What is more, they are caught on a “technology treadmill”, in the words of Mr Hutcheson. Competition forces them always to employ the latest technology, which both increases output and puts pressure on prices.

Finally, just as in agriculture, governments further fuel this innate tendency to oversupply. In prestige, national security, industrial policy or just a desire to create jobs, politicians have always found a reason to support their semiconductor industries, mostly with cash. Silicon Saxony, for instance, has received more than €1.5 billion (nearly $2 billion at today’s exchange rate) from the state of Saxony alone, much of it to coax AMD into investing. …