Technology: Keeping Pace with Change

Around the mid-1980s, the rapid development of electronics technology presented policymakers with two questions: (a) should governments promote the domestic production of electronics hardware and (b) should they promote the use of microelectronics to increase efficiency in offices, factories, and homes?

Those who believed that economy-wide benefits resulted when an individual firm manufactured an electronic widget (a television, or a computer, and especially a computer chip) favored stimulus to domestic production. Knowledge spilled over from the individual firm into a pool, from which all could draw, allowing the economy to innovate at higher rates than otherwise. Many, however, were skeptical arguing that governments had no basis for concluding that economy-wide benefits were any different when firms produced computer chips or potato chips. My research was focussed mainly on the rationale and strategy for emerging market countries to advance their electronics industries, although in doing so I also examined strategies in industrialized economies.

The attention turned, quite quickly, from production to use. But electronics was seen as a mixed blessing. Would cheap "robots" in industrialized countries create armies of unemployed? Could these robots help industrialized nations reclaim the production of labor intensive goods such as garments and shoes? Against this threat was the opportunity of selectively using the power of microelectronics to enhance the cheap labor in developing countries. Our work evolved over several years from first examining this somewhat stark question to a more nuanced set of issues. Accumulating experience showed that adopting microelectronics-based technology was not a simple matter. The Japanese-led quality control (and just-in-time) techniques were not only important in themselves but were prerequisites in most cases to the successful adoption of automation. A factory with poor quality control measures and, hence, producing considerable waste became even more wasteful with automated equipment if processes and tasks were not streamlined.

A significant theme that emerged from this research was the need to keep pace with change. Even in relatively labor-intensive production processes, the evidence showed that there was steady innovation in the use of materials and equipment. Moreover, the use of electronics technology beyond the boundaries of the manufacturing plant was growing, creating the need for the adept use of technologies and software related to the logistics of the flow of goods and services. Hence, conditions that facilitated continuous learning were important to the ability to successfully compete in international markets.

The rationale and strategy for promoting production of electronics goods

"Korea's Computer Strategy," Harvard Business School Case Study, 0-686-070, November 1985.

"Technological evolution of the semiconductor industry," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 30 (3): 197-205, 1986, with David Wheeler. Also in Automation and World Trade, Macmillan Press, London, 1990, with David Wheeler.

"Technological leapfrogging in switching systems," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 37: 77-83, March 1990, with Ron Sherman.

"Information industries in the Newly Industrializing Countries," in R.W. Crandall and K. Flamm, eds., Changing the Rules: Technological change, International Competition, and Regulation in Communications, The Brookings Institution: Washington, D.C., 1989. In modified form, also appeared as "Strategies for developing information industries," European Journal of Development Research, 1(1): 38-59, June 1989.

Microelectronics and quality control for increased work efficiency

"Performance and Potential of Information Technology: An International Perspective," World Development, 20 (12): 1703-1719, December 1992, with Carl Dahlman.

"Prices, costs and competition at the technology frontier: a model for semiconductor memories," Journal of Policy Modeling, 9 (2): 367-382, Summer 1987, with David Wheeler. Also in Automation and World Trade, Macmillan Press, London, 1990, with David Wheeler.

"Towards a vanishing middle: competition in the world garment industry," World Development, 15: 1269-1284, October/November 1987, with David Wheeler. Also in Automation and World Trade, Macmillan Press, London, 1990, with David Wheeler.

"International trends in steel mini-mills: keeping pace with technological change," Industry and Energy Department Working Paper, Industry Series Paper No. 52, July 1991, with Jerry Sanders, Rajan Suri, and Eric Thompson.

"Keeping Pace with Change: Organizational and Technological Imperatives," World Development, 20 (12): 1797-1816, December 1992, with Rajan Suri and Jerry Sanders.

"Impact of Manufacturing Practices on the Global Bicycle Industry," Manufacturing Review, 6(1): 14-24, March 1993, with Rajan Suri, Jerry Sanders, and P.C. Rao.

"Keeping Pace With Change: International Competition in the Printed Circuit Board Industry," Industrial and Corporate Change, 5(3): 583-613, 1995, with Rajan Suri and Mohan Tatikonda.

"Advanced Infrastructure for Time Management: the competitive edge in East Asia." CFS Discussion Paper Series 113 Washington D.C.: The World Bank, October 1995, with William Reinfeld. Also in "Infrastructure for Economic Development in East Asia: The Untold Story," 1997, The Economic Development Institute, the World Bank.

"Innovation and international diffusion of environmentally responsive technology," Research Policy, 25: 549-571, June 1996, with Jean Olson Lanjouw.

Some of the research described above is also reported or summarized in the following publications:

Automation and World Trade, Macmillan Press, London, 1990, with David Wheeler.

"Diffusion of Information Technology: Opportunities and Constraints," Special Issue of World Development, 20 (12), December 1992, editor with Carl Dahlman.