Useless Lists of Jobs Beneath Wealthy People

Do Wealthy Nations dump on Poor Nations?  
Are e-Waste Exports an Environmental Justice Issue?

By "wealthy", let's keep it simple.  There are seven billion people.
The wealthier half have different jobs than the poorer 3.5 billion.  But environmental justice is about geography, locations, and property value.  Where do the poor people live?  Why do they have different jobs than wealthy people?  Foster the people...

Not all the wealthy live in the OECD... Mathematically, that would be impossible, as the OECD nations combine to form about 1.3 billion people.  But the OECD nations account for even less than 1.3 billion or the "richest half"... because people live in places like this - slums - within the OECD.

Kamagasaki, Japan. A slum in Nishinari-Ku one of 24 wards in Osaka, with a density of 30,000 people in every 2000 meter radius.
Kamagasaki, Japan. A slum in Nishinari-Ku one of 24 wards in Osaka, with a density of 30,000 people in every 2000 meter radius.

Now, it may be a cheap shot to compare the Japanese slum of 30,000 to a slum of 1 million in (non-OECD) India:

Dharavi, India. A slum in Mumbai with approximately 1 million people.
Dharavi, India. A slum in Mumbai with approximately 1 million people.

Before you jump to the conclusion that the OECD countries like Japan have fewer ultra poor .. below is an even larger slum than Dharavi, with 4 million residents.  It's in an OECD country (Mexico).

Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio, Mexico. A slum in Mexico city with approximately 4 million people.
Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio, Mexico. A slum in Mexico city with approximately 4 million people

The camera angles get wider as you try to capture bigger slums.  The source of these photos also has the slums of Kenya, Ghana, Columbia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Brazil, and Iraq.   Not only is wealth "pixelized"... poverty is pixelized as well.

But the cities are developing.  The poor come to the slums from the countryside, as if attracted by the lights. They see electricity.  They see wifi.  They taste the internet.  The fruit of knowledge brings them to the barrio.

Wi-Fi will be in 42% of all households worldwide by 2016.
Wi-Fi network use will nearly double in homes around the world come 2016, according to new Strategy Analytics research. Already used in some 439 million households worldwide, equivalent to 25% of all households, Wi-Fi home network penetration will expand to 42%, reaching nearly 800 million by 2016, according to the “Broadband and Wi-Fi Households Global Forecast 2012” report.
According to the International Energy Agency, over 80+% of the people in the world already have access to electricity.
Based on this updated analysis, we estimate that in 2009 the number of people without access to electricity was 1.3 billion or almost 20% of the world’s population. 
Juan takes two LCD TVs, makes one (Lima).
The percentage of individuals with access to internet is lower than the percentage of households with wifi... because poor people have more people per household.  Still, internet access is growing much faster than electricity did.

So if the majority of the 83% of the world which is not OECD has electricity and internet, just where are the photos of primitive, informal recycling taking place?  The slums.  The NGO cameras show, close up, what the satellites keep us safely apart from.

One of the best things you can do to set the table for formal reconciliation is to focus on something you both care about.   I care about children in slums and rural poverty.  At bottom are slides of satellite photos of the largest slums in the world.

Here are my pictures inside.  Closer yet.  Names.  What people are doing. Who they are.  Who we are.

The study of slums in places like Mumbai (aka Bombay), the Zabaleen scrappers in Cairo, and the scrap yards in Agbogbloshie and Guiyu, is a legitimate focus of social studies.   Like a surgeon looking at an uugly head wound on a child, we are going to be appreciated in the long run if we remain calm and assess and treat the wound before getting hysterical or looking for boycott scapegoats.

From the side

Lima Peru Bario - less colorful from above
The interesting studies say that what the USA has done to its own family  farms is rolling out elsewhere, causing slums.   USA became a world breadbasket by making crops very cheaply, plentifully, and efficiently.  This frees the labor to... um... this is where the whole Marxist thing kinda gets lost on me.

In reality you free the labor by creating unemployment.  Unemployed rural people either need government welfare (checks to 'not grow' crops), or they relocate.  The cities are kind of interesting anyway, and they tend to relocate to those.

Here are some pictures of the 'slums' in Lima.  I went there, brought my family close to there.   Our hosts in Lima were concerned for our safety, but not because a majority of the poor were a threat... there are just so many of them that even 1% kidnappers and pickpockets is an army.

When herds of rural people arrive in the city with no formal education or training, it can create some really crowded and poor health and living conditions.  You can't really roll back the clock and make agriculture less efficient an employer, or you starve people and create food shortages.  The worst is when they arrive from civil war areas, as the people did in Agbogbloshie.   People coming from violent atrocity tend to shrug at sex work, toxic mining, robbery, and other lowest subsistence denominators.

The list of jobs I don't want is long.  But the list of jobs I don't want my students in Africa to get is short.

- Sex worker
- Thief
- Coltan Miner
- Child Soldier

Recycling is actually ON my job list.  But it is being set off limits to pre-geeks on the edges of slums, when it's one of the only ways out.  Environmental justice is a cause that means well, but when applied to jobs that people are allowed to have - repair and recycling jobs - the justice becomes a fence that keeps people in the slums by denying to them the best damn way out... through trade with wealthier people.

Rich white people turn their noses up at lots of jobs - especially when the jobs are depicted as done by "Scrap Boys".   Agriculture - picking organic cotton by hand.... And sustainable metals recovery - recycling... Or junk reuse and repair... or working in a tedious factory assembly line at Foxconn.... these jobs correlate with poverty, but are a legitimate way OUT of that poverty.   If there is no welfare check at the post office, and no post office, scrapping is something you can survive at and eek out a living.

Boycotting poor people is not a solution for either party.  It will lead to desperation, war, violence, and the end of the world... or something in that direction.

In the USA we take apart enough screws in a computer we are de-manufacturing to make it into power supplies, optic drives, hard dives, boards, etc.   We bale up the 20% of the stuff which accounts for 80% of the volume.  Then we put in a shredder ... Some say we may as well put in a shredder for the whole computer. In Egypt or Peru, they replace chips and capacitors, repairing the boards to make them work.

Using photos of people in slums to support a boycott policy does nothing to help them.  In fact, it is really the equivalent of thought terrorism... scaring people away from working with them.  It's like when Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia can't think of anything better to offer people than the USA built Iraq... so they create doubt and tension by blowing up a market.   It would be going backwards on my apology to say that the e-stewards campaign is akin to terrorism... but they threaten to blow up your reputation if you exchange goods with brown people.

There are three threats to reuse, repair, and hand disassembly.  One is the same as the threat to agriculture - automation will overtake these jobs, displacing them once again.

A second threat is that the nations doing this will rise and become more wealthy, become consume-and-dispose economies like ours.  This would be my pick... to the degree we (both of us) succeed in raising the living standards of the poor, we will shorten the list of jobs smart kids from Peru high schools will accept.

The third biggest threat is the planned-obsolescence / patent-extension / environmental-guilt complex.  If you photograph these same people, living in these same "slum city" conditions, peeling Peruvian potatoes, you could imagine that western monoculture potato farming is somehow freeing them from the condition...  See what Bloomberg inadvertently did to Victoria's Secret and Fair Trade Cotton.

Recycling upside down
If I personally look down on the job, I should not presume other people are suffering when they do it.  Cotton farming, metal recycling, agriculture, potato peeling.   Because wealthy people don't want to do this, we have a whole food industry and shredding industry and industrial-scale cotton farming.

To put a job on a list of "exploitation" because I don't want to do it equates recycling and repair with child warrior, sex trade, and tantalum mining.  They just don't have that many choices.  But they'd rather work on rich people discards than the bones left in the barrio.

How can so many people in my industry have this idea or recycling and trade so upside down?

Can you trust people to make your laws and policies who cannot read an argument this long?

The job you don't want, Oprah, is a gate for me.

The toxics can be worked around and managed better if rich people are paying the freight.

I don't have to burn the wire... not burning it is a matter of pennies, and China has outgrown burning wire already.   But if I'm to get onto the internet, if I'm to have access to the information YOU have access to, I need a computer and a display device.  The only one I can afford is one I buy, or repair, that came from outside my slum.

Whether outside my slum means "Chicago" or "Miraflores" or "Shenzhen" is beside the point, and the people who are talking about sea containers and export controls as being the solution are so out of touch with the barrio that they can only tell their story to wealthy, out of touch white E-Stewards in places like Santa Clara California, who believe that boycotting me from repairing computers will leapfrog me past pickpocketing and slumdog robbery, and propel me to a job as a doctor in a white coat... perhaps with lighter skin.

Source of slum photos (Business Insider).

Table 1: Electricity access in 2009 - Regional aggregates
Population without electricity

Electrification rate

electrification rate
electrification rate
   North Africa299.099.698.4
   Sub-Saharan Africa58530.559.914.2
Developing Asia67581.094.073.2
   China & East Asia18290.896.486.4
   South Asia49368.589.559.9
   Latin America3193.298.873.6
   Middle East2189.098.571.8
Developing countries1,31474.790.663.2

* World total includes OECD and Eastern Europe / Eurasia

Slum Studies

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