Hobsons Choice For the "E-Waste" Market

Take it or leave it.

When an E-Steward company, or a state or enterprise influenced by its negative campaign, is approached by an Egyptian, Indonesian, or Nigerian who wants to set up the fastest growing cities in on the planet with affordable internet, they have one choice.

They can either replace the bad capacitors themselves, replace the hard drives themselves, buy new laptop batteries themselves... etc. etc.   Or they can destroy them.

The fastest growing, highest use, internet market in the world, is in the cities of emerging markets.  Cairo, Jakarta, Lagos... and dozens of others with billions of people clamoring to learn, to be entertained, informed, and connected to their family, friends, and associates.  They are starving for things like affordable display devices.

When a Nigerian, Egyptian, or Indonesian electronics repairperson (a terrific job choice in emerging markets) wants to buy a Dell, HP, or Samsung computer from the USA, they have once choice:  buy from someone willing to sell to them, or go without.

The Watchdog, the Gatekeeper, the certifier wants to change that choice.  The E-Steward Program charges YOU money to not attack you for selling junk.  This changes the choice for suppliers / sellers in the USA.  I used to decide based on the demand - what people wanted to buy.  Now that's changed by the requirement that I pre-repair it, and the risk that if I do sell it, I may be attacked.    The effect has been to constrain the supply - the buyers choice of goods.

The Watchdogs say this is to protect the buyers from getting "junk".   The test of whether something is junk?  In the marketplace, it's called "the marketplace"... what people are interested in buying.  The buyers, the Geeks of Color, the Technicians, the "Good Enough Market".   The Watchdog, having convinced everyone that 80% of these decisions are bad ones, intervenes, and places themselves between the buyer and the seller.   A referee can be good - if the ref understands scoring and other rules of the game.

Under E-Stewards, the ref has raised the stakes on any missed calls, and so they design a rule to be something much easier to measure than willingness to buy (repeatedly).  They can't be bothered by the background checks on buyers and fair contract language that Fair Trade Recycling pursues.   Keep it simple e-Stupid.  "Fully Functional", "Tested Working", "Plug and Play"...  E-Stewards and PACE gave up when we sent them 20 page purchase orders with quantities, tests, sizes, buyer qualification rules and other parameters.   Too long to read.   To difficult.  So they created "tested working" as a standard.  Sounds good.  The effect was to remove sellers unable to test and buyers who preferred buying newer goods for repair (rather than old ones "working").

1:  Take the highest demand in the world
2:   Restrict what they can buy
3.  Profit!!

They get applause from the Anti-Gray Market Alliance members who make brand new product, who restrict the right to repair and use patent trolls and copyright extension to squeeze the largest demand in the world into the tiny space of brand new product.  Profit.

This paradigm is well suited to the gatekeeper.   They can give their approval for a sale, and it's based on something simple enough that they don't have to visit end markets or assess their processes.  Was it fully functional, tested working - YES OR NO?  If not, it doesn't matter how much the Emerging Market needs it, or how capable they are of fixing, upgrading, repairing it, or how sustainable your sale might have been.  It is easier for the "gatekeeper" at PACE, at E-Stewards, or at NRDC to say "was it fully functional, yes or no?"

The gatekeeper then maximizes their power and influence with the threat of defamation.   The fewer choices they have to explain or monitor, the easier it is to say "off with their heads".  Pay the cost of the American repairman, pay the cost of brand new equipment, or buy shredded pieces.  

The buyers, whose skill levels and savvy I have found to be equal to if not better than the "waste" keepers in the USA, are grown ups.  They prefer to repair the bad capacitor on a quad core Dell than to take a "plug and play" E-machines Pentium 3.... their market prefers it and they use their skill and create more value, which creates better "added value" jobs in their home countries.

In these markets, per capita income is roughly $3000 per year.   Only the very wealthy can buy brand new, and only the stupid would buy a worn out "fully functional" Pentium 2.   There is a Hobsons Choice, E-Stewards just doesn't understand it, because they never sit down for tea with the buyers and their families, who they have repeatedly labelled "e-waste criminals".

Buy from someone willing to sell to me.
Buy nothing at all.

This is what creates the "bad Apples" which feed Ben Elgin of Businessweek or Scott Pelley of CBS 60 Minutes.  So much easier to find someone who mixes Toxics Along for the Ride (TAR), who says to the buyers they can't have the Pentium 4 unless they take the junk printer as well.  The Watchdog convinces the journalists that the chances against defamation of the emerging market buyer are 80-90%.   Once the reporter believes the false statistic, the lie, the story becomes easier and less expensive to report.  It bleeds, it leads.  Gotcha = Profit!

The watchdog earns profit from "certifying" the sale.
The original manufacturer earns profit from eliminating secondary markets.
The certified recycler passes higher costs to clients, and can safely replace staff with grinders.
The dictators reduce the uncertainty of information spread by internet.

And we call it "a green choice".  Shredded raw materials are still exported to developing countries, there's really no change in the scale or the compass.

BAN.org publicly denounced Fair Trade Recycling as "poisoning people", but offered no other real affordable alternative.  Privately they tell me to my face that they don't have a clue about the 80% statistic (they only say they doubt I know), and they tell me there may have been collateral damage.   But publicly they say I'm crazy, a liar, an outlier, a defender of dumping on the poor.   And then they say to me I haven't rewarded their private handshake, their pat on the back, their offer of concession?

Well keep that, just publish my comment on your blog when you accuse my friend Hamdy of being a primitive Egyptian wire burning monkey.  His story is virtually the same as Michael Dells - he was at the University of Alexandria, getting his degree in medicine, and fixing computers in his room.  He found he could make more money fixing computers and selling them to other Egyptian doctors and students than he could being a doctor without a computer.   A week after meeting me to talk "peace" BAN refuses to publish my comment on this blog attacking the Egyptian Tech, showing a fake photo of 80% garbage, and insinuating that the FBI has cracked down on Hamdy's "e-waste crime".

What the FBI found was that Egyptian buyers were forced to put date labels making display monitors look like they were within 3 years of date of manufacture.  They had to print the wrong date, because they had a Hobsons Choice.   It was buy the used monitors they could afford, or go without.  What was behind the 3-Year Old rule in Egypt for CRT monitors which last 25 years?  Another Hobsons choice in 2008 - dictator Hosny Mubarak liked the "buy new or do without" rule because only the wealthy and connected could buy new... and the other 98% of Egyptians (the ones in the graph at top), he wasn't too sure about....

The percentage of repairable and working devices turned in at USA E-Waste collections is about 40%-50%, not including the working ones which the buyers don't want (like 32" CRT televisions that won't power up in a slum with diluted electricity).  The percentage of intact, working units which Stewards Export?  If I had to make up a statistic, it would be 3%.  And it would be a lot more accurate than BAN's statistic about 80% e-waste.

It all works perfectly for the White Hat Stewards, who get to be called special for their machines that destroy equipment, and for the Black Hat exporters who have less competition.

The losers are the boycotted.   It's a dirty little secret that isn't a secret if you haven't been brainwashed by poverty porn. 

If the OEMs wake up and drink the coffee, they will see that the used market is not the enemy.   As Ford Motor Company explained to Vance Packard, used cars are what teenagers learn to drive on.  The more drivers, the earlier they can afford to learn to drive, the more cars Ford sells.   Free market = profit.  To obsolete the repair industry, Ford explained, would constrict that market.

See the graph above.   When a young African, Asian, or Latino kid discovers the internet on a used black Dell monitor, he aspires to afford a Dell computer one day.   The used products are what keep the American brands in the minds of tomorrows consumers.  Fair Trade Recycling is the way out for OEMs who want out of the Hobsons choice of paying the Gatekeeper to say no, paying the Watchdog not to bite them.

And remember the graph below - where E-waste Generators live (in emerging markets).  Along with the graph at the top, you see where the buyers are is equal to where the generators are.  And no, a picture of a kid burning a white monitor is not proof that the containerload photograph of black monitors was "e-waste" import.  Learn to think.

I cut my hair and went to business school because my long haired hippy liberal friends cared a lot but didnn't go overseas and trade with the technicians of color.  I went back again and again to my emerging market buddies, and saw that small business, Kiva, and Fair Trade is the answer, and Prohibition and boycotts are only leveraged by the wealthy, the dictators, the powerful corporations.   Freedom and liberalism is freedom.  Ayn Rand is not the enemy just because she's the hero of another party.

Stop the poverty porn.  Stand up and be willing to trade with the geeks of color.   More trade from the USA, more choices to the buyers = Profit!   WSJ and Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Fox News and Al Jazeera should agree on the ability for more people to read more print, and that can only happen the way more people were able to drive cars - by allowing emerging markets a choice of internet to buy, and not a Sophies or Hobsons Choice.   Every day I'm told by our buyers that we have to increase quality, decrease price, because they've found another choice.   And it's my love of free and fair trade and democracy that makes me grateful they have that choice.   Paying money to a Green thug to threaten their other choices means I'm afraid of competition.    Competition is good.   Bring it on.

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