The theme of social choice, being able to choose a job, is key to mobility. But mobility is also key to being able to select a job.
In the blogs here about slums, choices of jobs, and exports of materials, we are really talking about free trade. If you ask people their opinions on free trade and sustainability, you can predict what their estimate is of bad trade.
The Bayesian analysis used by Reed Miller's group at MIT did some interesting things, using surveys of experts, seeding "known" information, and then weighting opinions of statistics according to their ability to answer known things correctly. The expert who knows the most about your car is most likely to tell you correctly what is wrong with your car.
What is seriously lacking are surveys of Africans, Chinese, Latinos, living across the colored crayon lines that we have drawn on our maps.
If you use Bing Maps or Google Maps or others, you can ignore "OECD" and political lines. And you can also "zoom in" into cities, like Beijing, which are really isolated kingdoms, so far away from Kevin Bacon (six degrees of separation) in any direction that they really are a market of individuals making choices on where they will live and work, to the degree they are allowed.
Restrictions on race and language, restrictions on passports, or on religion or sex, govern peoples freedom to choose a job. Age restrictions, handicaps, too. That's undeniable. But what's most important to sustainability is whether the person is qualified to do the job. If they are willing to, and CAN do it, keeping them from doing it is going to tend to be "friction" in the whole machine.
As nations like China become more and more wealthy, we can predict their willingness to do things, buy things, accept things, will change. "Good Enough" markets evolve.
What we are trying to do with Fair Trade Recycling is to de-mystify some of the electronics recycling work. Hand disassembly, for example, of hard drives. What's so exotic about it? You remove screws, you separate boards from aluminum. You avoid toxic processes like aqua regia and.. voila! .. you make even more money. Acid baths are for suckers, the economics of transporting the boards to a high end smelter have always been better, so long as no barrier to trade is created between the board disassembler and the smelter.
StEP and others are working on that south-to-north movement (a funny way to describe southern China to Dowa in Japan). FTR is working on north-to-south movement, showing how the hand disassembly is as good or better than shredding, and how the reuse in southern markets creates better choices for work.
The choice to repair a CRT monitor is not a choice that Americans make, because Americans can choose to buy a new flat monitor. Heck, forget repair, we don't even plug it in, we don't even advertise that it's working. But he job to repair a CRT monitor is pretty darn attractive in countries where ivory poaching, blood diamonds, sex work, and pirate boating are on the list of recruiters.
What jobs are retired people allowed to do? What jobs are Untouchables allowed to do? What jobs are Brahmins allowed...? Or Cantonese? Or Shiites? Or Atheists?
Repair and recycling is a job I chose. I have an MBA and a CDL, because I needed both business and truck driving skills to compete at the work I chose. Maybe I'm not smart enough to have been a software developer or brain surgeon, or maybe I'm just attracted to Dirty Jobs. There are plenty of risks in my workplace which I could have avoided by working on things that don't require forklifts and balers.
I love this job, and part of what I love best about it is the 10% of stuff I get to save and trade with people in other continents, other lands. I love bringing my family to visit business partners in Cairo, I love having partners in Lima take my kids surfing, I love seeing the "Tough Broads" (Chicas Bravas) talking about winning against a corrupt mayor, and exposing my kids to their laughter. I loved investigating the reuse markets in Guangzhou. I love giving a big discount to a Ghana internet cafe exporter, and seeing his eyes light up and his smile broaden when we cut 20% off the bill he already agreed to pay.
But these are all really specific things which may not be important as manufacturing turns more and more gizmos into "light bulbs". The first light bulbs were repairable, really. But when they become so plentiful and cheap, the repair job goes away. IFIXIT's battle with manuals, repair-ability, and patent trolls may be winnable, but not if the IPhone 9 costs only $4. It's the plummeting price of mass manufacturing which ulitimately floods the toshers pits, the multiplication of affordable flush toilets, the scale of production of light bulbs which make brand new ones available to everyone.
I'm not religious about recycling. I'm religious about choice. Taking away an African kid's choice to buy a discarded laptop and replace the capacitor, when we ourselves don't want to fix the capacitors and we purchase big machines to shred the stuff we don't want to fix... It was called "being a dog in the manger" in my youth. We need to be truthful about trade, and you can't be truthful if you have a membership (like R2 or E-Stewards) which is not democratically representing the Geeks of Color.
It's about mobility, which was what Albert Einstein was most interested in as well. The relativity of energy and motion and mass. By imagining trains, and opposite perspectives, he was able to do a lot without putting in unnecessary data like the race, or color of hat, or the OECD crayon lines drawn on the maps his imaginary trains and trails moved across. That Einstein level thinking, about choices people are allowed to make, is what's been missing in E-Waste Relativity theory.