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A Failure Analysis of the US Economy
As failure analysis engineers for companies, our job is to find the root cause of failure and recommend changes in design, process, tests, etc. to fix the problem. This type of analysis has become an important part of semiconductor mass production, which makes electronics cheaper and affordable for consumers. At the same time, mass production helps the manufacturer / producer of parts by increasing their profits.
What we need to recognize is that both producers and consumers are vital for the semiconductor industry. Without a healthy demand for the latest electronic gadgets such as smartphones, tablet PCs, hybrid cars, etc. there would be no incentive for global semiconductor firms to keep investing in the research and development of new technologies that improve the quality of life. While we make a living through the failure analysis of modern-day electronics and keep our jobs, pay for mortgages, groceries, utilities, cars, etc., we also contribute to the demand for other goods by spending our wages. We are workers on one side and consumers on the other. Consumer spending helps create jobs for other services and 70% of the US economy depends on consumer spending . It is the consumer’s purchasing capacity that is the best metric of economic performance.
Common Sense Macroeconomics
Producers and Consumers are like two wings of a bird. If either of the wings gets hurt, the bird will no longer be able to fly. If that bird is not nursed quickly and properly, it would be disabled and either die from hunger or fall prey to a predator. With the same analogy, both producers and consumers have to prosper for a robust economy.
Before we get into more details of macro-economics, let us see where the economic profession stands at this juncture. In a recent article in The New York Times, Professor Robert J. Shiller of Yale University and a best-selling author argues that even now we don’t understand what really causes a recession and layoffs . But another best-selling economist, Professor Ravi Batra, seems to have solved the puzzle of recessions by offering a new theory of unemployment. His theory relies on common sense as he argues that recessions and depressions occur when worker productivity keeps rising faster than the economy’s average real wage. He demonstrates that this happened in the 1920s, which were followed by a depression. The same thing also occurred during the 2000s and the world has been in The Great Recession since 2007.
Batra argues that worker productivity is the main source of supply while wages are the main source of demand. If productivity rises faster than wages, then supply rises faster than demand. This results in overproduction and forces the manufacturer to fire workers. Producers are the suppliers of goods, and consumers generate the demand for these goods. Consumer demand, being dependent on wages, is sustainable only if the consumers as workers earn higher salaries. If the wages of consumers do not catch up with increased supply of goods, the supplier of goods is unable to sell all that he/she has manufactured.
Let us take an example of the semiconductor industry where the semiconductor Wafer foundries manufacture tens of thousands of wafers per month. These facilities supply silicon for the semiconductor industry. For a wafer fabrication facility to be profitable, it has to be able to produce as many wafers as possible that meet the Statistical Process Control (SPC) stability metrics and customers’ quality requirements when it comes to DPPM (Defective Parts per Million). This ability to mass produce is measured by the productivity of the work force. A wafer Foundry, like every other company, wants its employees to be highly productive to maintain a high supply of wafers for its customers. The wafer fab management pays incentives based on productivity.
Now, where does the need come for wafer fab to hire more workers? This occurs only if wafer fab customers demand more goods. Where does the customer demand come from? It comes from the wages of the people. When we have an economy where employed people have high wages or high purchasing capacity, they are able to generate a high demand for goods. Hence, the wages of the workers have to catch up with their productivity. If employees are very productive, that is they work hard and efficiently, they are able to increase the supply of goods into economy with their productivity. Now, what happens if the wages of the productive workers fail to catch up with their productivity? As a result of the growing gap between wages and productivity, eventually the purchasing capacity of the workers is not able to catch up with the amount of goods that are being manufactured by them. Hence this correlates to a gap between the supply of goods and the sustainable demand for them. In other words, the wage-productivity gap causes a supply-demand gap.
In my previous analogy, this hurts one of the two wings of a bird. In other words, the imbalance between oversupply of goods and weak demand for them leads to layoffs at the wafer fabrication facility. This is how an economy is so closely connected to maintaining a sustainable supply and demand of goods. Thus layoffs occur when people’s purchasing capacity falls short of the goods that workers produce due to their high productivity.