Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets #5: Urban Youth

Basel Amendment to End E-Waste
When we discuss the rapid meshing of cultures in rapidly growing cities, and how the "last mile" of people tend to migrate to the first mile of track (and electric cable, TV broadcast, and internet), there's another factor to consider in making comparisons:


Rural families tend to be large.  My late buddy Yadji had a brother in Yenwa who had 12 kids and 4 wives, and said his goal was to have 25 kids.   I met other men in Cameroun who boasted of 30 children.  It has been well studied that this is a rural phenomena that tends to decluster within a couple of generations of living in a city.  Quarters are more cramped, school is expensive, and multilingualism is mandatory. Girls get to school more often, and educated women have fewer kids.

But life is tough in the slums for the first generation.  As Adam Minter told me, the young Cantonese may take the super-long workshift at Foxconn for a year or two, but they burn out and adapt more reasonable habits.   It's a difficult way out of rural poverty.  But the rural immigrants don't remain "suckers" for long...
It’s estimated there were 1.2-billion people in extreme poverty in 2010. That’s a decline of 700-million since 1990.  - Chronic Poverty Report
There are about six billion people in the "non-OECD", but "non-OECD" doesn't mean poverty or hunger for most.  The young kids from rural villages have it the worst, and they are the fodder for sex traders, child soldier warlords, pirates, drug runners, etc.  The worst jobs Africa has tend to fall disproportionately on the families with the most children.

Youths have a reputation in every country for thinking they are ten foot tall and bullet-proof.  If you want a challenging environment for OSHA rules, hire a bunch of recently graduated blue collar high schoolers.  The race of the kids doesn't matter, the geography doesn't matter, kids are willing to exploit themselves and to be explioted, especially if they are hungry.

But the flame of experience burns quickly.  You can fool them once.  You cannot exploit them permanently, you either have to hire more rural immigrants, or move to a place where they are more abundant.  And in the meantime,  you have grown an urban middle class which will stick around another 40-50 years.  Visit the demographics in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei and Incheon.
[China's] costs have grown while surplus labour has shrunk, as three decades of the one-child policy means China’s working age population will likely fall by 20% in the next 40 years, and by a further 20% from 2050 to 2100.
Tweets responding to Fareed Zakaria's links (to Jack Goldstone in always yield interesting links.   Jonathan Berman's Havard Business Review (10/13) article "Seven Reasons Why Africa's Time is Now" points out, among other things, that Africa will have more working population than China by 2050, and that investments in "assessembly" jobs are already coming strong.   Today only 24% of Africa's $2 Trillion economy come from natural resource extraction.  The "resource curse" in Africa is beginning to look a lot like Indonesia and Malaysia, which (as I've frequently written) are seesawing away from resource economies into "tinkerer blessing" repair-and-assembly economies... the same path as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and originally Japan followed.   The less rural land a country has drawn ("lines on maps") around it, the faster it makes this motion.  Singapore was originally part of Malaysia, and it's stunning growth is as attributable to its cessation from rural geography as it is the country's difference from Penang, KL or Jahor Bahru.  The growth of Taiwan correlates to its ability to concentrate on the "first mile of track".

Cities shrink families. Smaller families have more disposable income.  That's the parentage of e-waste at African dumps, smaller families from a generation passed own TVs, and the TVs are scrapped by kids from rural families, more recently immigrated.  It's ripe for improvement and reform, either through StEP or Fair Trade Recycling or by Indian and Taiwanese entrepreneurs.    It has nothing to do with ratification of the "Basel Convention".  

Ask Nneka Egbuna (Soul is Heavy artist)


Westerners keep wanting to experiment on African by taking away DDT to kill mosquitos, taking away refurbishment and repair, taking away the ladders we used.  And African governments, enriched by natural resource extraction, are too ready to accept the snake oil, the "let them eat cake" policies which purport to defend them from "colonialist e-waste".   If it's a dictator, like Mubarak, take the seizure of used computers with a heavy grain of salt.

As China's Cantonese villagers moved into Guangzhou to pursue jobs with Hong Kong managers, Taiwanese technicians, and Mandarin regulators, they took residence in "slum" neighborhoods before Foxconn had dorms.  Africa is now following the same trajectory. Within a couple of generations, the average family size will shrink, with or without a one-child policy.  They consume more carbon and energy per capita, but eventually, over decades, create fewer "capitas".  In the meantime, the marketplace caters to the young, and young people want streaming internet and television and podcasts.

In the USA, 20% of Americans are under the age of 15.  The publications by USA's Heath and Human Services, covering just a few decades of US Census data, help explain the changing USA cultural map.  As communications (radio and television) arrived courtesy of the TVA between Memphis and Tulsa, new music appeared which would change the music in the UK.  The "British Invasion" of bands in the 1960s were bringing southern music to the USA's east coast.

When you measure what makes music popular, it's the first thing "owned" by children.   I purchased Yellow Submarine, Sgt Pepper, Queen's Night at the Opera, and (MU) Greatest Hits of Jethro Tull to play on my dad's record player.  My kids have taught me to like Eminem and Ludakris.  But the point is that today music changes faster and is most accessible by internet, compared to radio.  When my kids went to public school in Paris for a year, they were racial minorities, not by virtue of USA, but because most of the kids in the urban Paris classroom were children of African and Mideastern immigrants.

And no one had a @#$ing problem with that.  And in Cameroon, when I lived there in the 1980s, the coolest kids spoke both Engish Pidgin and French, and listened to Congolese music.

My point is that the studies of "lesser developed countries" and the use of OECD to define the trade of affordable goods and secondary (and refurbished) markets is fundamentally flawed, outdated, 1960s thinking.  Photos of kids in dumps in India have nothing at all to do with imported "e-waste".  India is the control group, the nation with virtually no imports of western used electronics allowed.  The pictures of kids breaking down electronics in India are rural kids who have moved to the slum with parents seeking assembly jobs, and the parents large families (to grow crops with) struggle between income today and education tomorrow.  They make the choices Yadji's father had to make, which kids will go to school and which (likely the girls) will get married.  Girls can marry up, men can't.

Sexism, Rural-Urban, Age, Access to Electricity, Access to Internet.   You could define what is happening in the world so many different ways.  Using the 1960's "OECD" white mens club membership, which is showing up in all my OEM Independent Plan contracts, is a compromise with a small organization in Seattle with very old ideas about colonialism, lesser-developed-countries (LDCs), and exploitation.  The ideas behind using "OECD" to determine waste trade (scrap, remember, is allowed under the Convention unless or until the "Ban Amendment" is passed) were born in the same decades that Maoism was being broken down by Deng Shiaoping, who liberalized the marketplace in Guangdong as an experiment which led to China finally enjoying the same "tinkerer blessing" economy that the Asian Tigers had enjoyed.

Taking this work away from Africans is criminally stupid, as useless an idea as trying to confine music to political maps.

Population Under Age 15 (Percent)

LocationPopulation Under Age 15
1. Niger52%
2. Angola48%
2. Uganda48%
4. Mali47%
5. Afghanistan46%
5. Burundi46%
5. Chad46%
5. Congo (Dem. Republic of)46%
5. Malawi46%
5. Mayotte46%
5. Zambia46%
12. Burkina Faso45%
12. Mozambique45%
12. Somalia45%
12. Tanzania (United Rep. of)45%
16. Benin44%
16. Gambia44%
16. Nigeria44%
16. Senegal44%
16. Yemen44%
21. Cameroon43%
21. Comoros43%
21. Guinea43%
21. Iraq43%
21. Liberia43%
21. Madagascar43%
21. Sao Tome and Principe43%
21. Sierra Leone43%
21. Zimbabwe43%
30. Eritrea42%
30. Kenya42%
30. Marshall Islands42%
30. Rwanda42%
30. Timor Leste42%
30. West Bank and Gaza42%
36. Congo41%
36. Cote d'Ivoire41%
36. Cote d'Ivoire41%
36. Ethiopia41%
36. Guatemala41%
36. Guinea-Bissau41%
36. Sudan41%
36. Togo41%
44. Central African Republic40%
44. Mauritania40%
44. Samoa40%
44. Solomon Islands40%
48. Equatorial Guinea39%
48. Ghana39%

The kids in Angola want to look like, sound like, and dress like Bruna Tatiana.  And they are not going to buy brand new Levis to achieve that.  That's why Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, and St. Vincent de Paul are among the biggest USA exporters.   Try calling it "C-waste" (clothing waste) and see if the music videos stop.

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