Emerging Market Destination: Korea

A recurring theme of this "e-waste ethics" blog is the history of emerging markets, with specific emphasis on the "Asian Tiger" economies.   Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, many parts of China, and now Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, hold a lot of hope for Africa.

In a crude general retelling, the Japanese copied American goods and made knock off products 60 years ago for the "Good Enough" market.  Japan became economically the model for Asia (if also a menace).  The the Taiwanese and the Koreans started refurbishing, reselling, repairing and knocking off Japanese and USA electronics.  And we are taking about radios and stereos here, and ultimately television.

When Japan started its own CRT tube manufacturing, that was a major milestone.   That meant, in the 1970s, that Japan had "arrived", was fully functional, and had shed its wartime recovery.  The question is why we want to deny this path to progress to the Southern Hemisphere.  The reuse, refurbishing, knock-off, assembly, disassembly and recycling jobs are all far less polluting and toxic than the mining, monoculture, and timber harvesting jobs we are giving them World Bank loans for - i.e. paying them to pursue.  Refurbishing is a non-polluting, intellectually rewarding, and resource conserving path to a healthy economy, the "reverse" of the resource curse.

History shows it, and we must film our current event recycling for tomorrow's history books.

Chinese businesspeople chased into Taiwan by Maoists, and Koreans (who still had traumatic memories of wartime Japan), watched and in some ways emulated Japan.  I'm weak on the history of how or whether Japanese investors "contract manufactured" goods in Taiwan etc., but I know the "core competency" in electronics was a Japanese model... you keep whatever is most difficult to copy and outsource anything that is a no-brainer.  Assembling molded parts is not rocket science, get that out of your overhead and outsource.

The Taiwanese, perhaps because many were displaced, went all "man without a country" and started the Japanese outsourcing like crazy, bringing assembly plants to China, Korea, Malaysia, etc.   It was an economic wildfire.  The innovation and market growth has been stunning in Asia.

Korea is central in my analysis because it was, by all measures, poorer in 1950 than Africa is today.   The nation is now the envy of the developed world, home of Samsung, Hyundai, flat screen production (today's "CRT furnace"), etc.   And it is also still home to elective upgrade and remanufacturing industries, though many are being relocated.

What is happening now is that the Taiwanese and Chinese entrepreneurs are moving into Africa to establish the same copy, refurb, elective upgrade businesses.

I'm an American and I completely enjoy, and am comfortable with, our melting pot.  But isolationism is also in our "jeans", and Bruce Springsteen, fabulous as he is born to run, he's behind K-Rock now.  Korea is just a poor boy no more.

This is a Korean (K-Rock) cover of my favorite song from the 1970s, by England's Queen.  Bohemian Rhapsody blew my mind, I remember stopping peddling my bike because I heard it on the radio playing somewhere, I had to stop my bike and listen to the song.  Koreans are no longer copying USA 1970s rock, or USA 1970s industry.  They have officially gone from poor as Africa to our equal, and Japan's equal.  We should not be taking away their method from the Southern Hemisphere.  We can recycle cleaner than we can mine.  Mining the rain forests of the southern hemisphere to manufacture brand new virgin "Stuff" for the rich is NOT where it's at.  Reuse, repair and recycling, bring it to the south and let's rock hard, not mine hard rock. 

Ethical recycling is not just boycotting.  In fact, boycotting is not recycling at all.

I'm constantly amazed by the looks I get from Americans when I say "Recycling in Singapore".  Try it.  There is nothing more ludicrous than American reactions to the phrase "recycling in Singapore".   Recycling in Malaysia - do you think high tech?

Recycling in Korea... It's coming to an emerging nation market not-so-near you.

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