Korea on Korea E-Waste Trade

Tip of the hat to Adam Minter, who's burrowed in to complete his "scrap book".

I'm not really sure what to make of this story in Mainichi Daily News, which is about the arrest of a South Korean for selling used PCs to North Korea.  But what is clear is what it is not about.

  • It's not about the South Korean exploiting North Korea's poverty.
  • It's not about racial guilt.
  • There's no discussion of "OECD" South Korea trading with North Korea.
  • There's no discussion of whether the personal computers were "fully functional", or "tested working", or ewaste.
  • No one speaks about toxics, hard drive information, or other ju-ju words which elevate the e-waste crisis.

It's not about a dictator calling the imports e-waste.  Dictators normally want to restrict the sale and distribution of cell phones, display devices, and internet.  In places like Pakistan, people call computer assets commodities, they are something people bid, something people want.  Labelling them "waste" leads to an SOPA-like uproar (Daily Times, April 2010 ‘No ban on import of used computers’).

In this case, the dictatorship is silent about the exchange of goods.

The outcry is from the nations who don't want North Koreans to be using the internet.

I don't know enough about this particular set of computers, who sold it, who bought it, or how they'd be used.  Maybe for a weapons system, maybe to edit porn.  Maybe to translate John Lennon songs...

What we do know is that when trade is restricted, the Capones come out on top.  I have absolutely no doubt that the new young dictator of North Korea has a shiny, bright, IPhone 5 and a satellite tower wifi for every luxurious bedroom.  The dictators tend not to need used computers.

The article is clearly not about reuse, repair, recycling or e-waste.  It's presumed that if North Koreans are paying for the used computers, it's because they want them.  The purpose of a ban or boycott is obvious.

It's to keep people from getting what they want to buy.

And that, my friends, is Basel Action Network and E-Stewards design for Africa.

Only dictators "leapfrog" into IPad 6s when you cut off the supply of Pentium 4s.  For normal people, around the world, trade is exchange of money between people who have something and people who want something.  It's not perfect, but only in the absence of the trade does trade become primarily about anything else, and policy come to the fore.

Talking about it rather than doing it.. where the real money is in e-waste recycling.  The people on the line at my factory don't earn much, the people they sell the 25% we export to don't earn much.  I imagine the particulars in the Koreas are not that much different.

Somewhere in North Korea, someone isn't listening to this John Lennon song, and they aren't writing a translation, as this Iranian student has done... translating John Lennon's song into Persian....  Think about that as we start a boycott on Iran, which is where the next "ewaste" "export" "used computer" story is coming from.  Someone in my business is going to sell a batch of used computers and displays to Dubai, and someone in Dubai is gonna sell some to Iran.  Image the headlines in the e-waste journals.

Then Imagine the next generation of Iranians, imagining peace with Israel.  The nukes in Iran are probably not being built on used computers.  As the internet suffers in Iran, maybe we can see how it has worked in North Korea.

The Japanese can imagine, too...

No comments: