The Geopolitics of Microchips (Or, Why Semiconductors are the New Oil)
An interview with the author of the buzzy new book "Chip Wars"
It’s on every international relations nerd’s list of Books of The Year.
In this episode, I sit down with Chris Miller, author of the new book: Chip Wars: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology. The books tells the story of microchip, including its history and profound impact on international relations and geopolitics today.
Chris Miller is an Associate Professor of International History at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. We discuss why the microchip is central to our world today, how Taiwan and South Korea became the two major international hubs for the manufacture of specialized chips, and the geopolitical implications of a chip manufacturing supply chain that relies on just a few key nodes. We also discuss efforts by the US to prevent China from building a domestic advanced chip manufacture industry.
This is one of the most interesting books I have encountered in a really long time and it gave me a fascinating new lens to look at geopolitics.
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Here’ a teaser. Enjoy!
Chris Miller [00:02:27] Today chips are in all sorts of devices. We probably assume that semiconductors are inside of smartphones or PCs, but it's not just high-tech devices: it's dishwashers, microwaves, and automobiles, too, which can have hundreds or in some cases, thousands of chips inside. So, the global economy can't work without semiconductors and that creates complications because the semiconductor supply chain is increasingly being threatened by the world's biggest geopolitical dispute between the United States and China. Unlike in the past, throughout most of the history of the chip industry, there is now a real question about whether advanced economies can get the semiconductors they need, because many of the world's most advanced chips, and over a third of the computing power the world adds each year, can only be produced in Taiwan. So, the acceleration of US-China competition and tensions puts all of that increasingly at risk.
Mark L. Goldberg [00:03:27] I want to dig a little deeper into the analogy you make in your book that essentially chips have become the new oil, like the commodity that is driving geopolitics. How did that come to be?
Chris Miller [00:03:44] For a long time, chips really were only used in computers, hence their names, but today they are crucial for everything. Just like oil, the economy can't work without them. But even more so than oil, the concentration of the production of advanced chips is just in a handful of companies in a handful of countries.