DELTA: IMF, Botswana, Bullyboys, Tinkerers and Liberal Bubble-heads

One my flight back from the EU, I had the good luck to find myself seated next to a young woman from Botswana.  I learn she's a student of economics (probably) returning for her sophomore year at a very selective small women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts.

BotswanaAs my twins are just starting college life, we had a lot to chat about in the beginning, about the cost of USA tuitions and fees, financial aid, and jobs.  My wife teaches at Middlebury, and (I'll call her Mosta, a pseudonym) knew the Cameroon program my wife set up and was considering applying for next year.  Mosta described her father as a retired road construction engineer, and her mother ran a nursing program at a Botswana hospital.

Botswana Africa is considered one of the most democratic and least corrupt countries in the sub-sahara, though Mosta and I quickly agreed that it was a low bar.  She knew the term "resource curse".  Botswana is home to diamond mining (and not much else), and reliant on raw materials contracts.  She understood and agreed with my "development" theory.   Nations whose path to wealth was mainly tied to being somehow related to someone with the sharpest elbows inside a bureaucracy which controlled foreign access to those raw materials.  The curse of natural resources lies in the bullyboy culture within the governments who find themselves awash in cash from resource contracts but don't have much of a private sector in other home businesses.

We talked about how nations which lack natural resources don't all prosper.  Haiti and Sudan and Ethiopia don't have oil or diamonds, but they don't bear much resemblance to Singapore, Taiwan, or South Korea.  The absence of billion dollar state contracts does not itself explain their rapid development.  And the temptation among many is to attribute the cause of the success to other factors like race or genetics.

At this point poor Mosta may have been a victim of politeness, because she'd nowhere to run (though she could have picked up a book or used the pillow to shut me up, I figured).   She'd unleashed me to talk about the "Missing Women" theory by Ritesh Singh - which attributes social development to the integration of women in the economy.

Singh's use of statistics and Adam Smith-ish logic to explain how women's rights add huge statistical leverage on things like management.   If you can promote staff who are excellent at making spear shafts to making more expensive added-value spear blades, you need to be able to give the shaft making job to someonoe else, Smith explained, and putting 50 percent of your workforce out of the running damages your economy even if it's true they lack the capacity to reach the same level of excellence in spear shaft making.  And after a generation or two of allowing any minority - such as women - access to the lower shaft-making job, you will eventually find someone among them who do compete well with men, and over generations you have a better workforce or management force to choose from.

Mosta seemed genuinely engaged with me and to enjoyed the discussion as much as I did.  Her perspective from the women's college or from the perspective of Botswana, or because (like me) she was fascinated by statistics classes, kept us going on the topic.   I offered that if two resource poor nations are equally lacking in "resource curse" and bullyboy contracts, their relative success could be explained statistically by democratization and equality of women and minorities in access to all jobs in the economy.

Then I sprung on her the "Tinkerer Blessing" theory, which is the most successful economic path to development is fixing rich people's retained value "stuff".   Added Value in the economy is well understood (see "value added" taxes on all my invoices from Europe), but "retained value" is targeted and destroyed by planned obsolescence, anti-"market cannibalization" laws, and export bans of added value products which can be repaired, refurbished, repurposed, or recycled.

Mosta was fascinated that my company today was making most of its money by accepting payments from state governments - who receive money from established developed industries - to break stuff, to remove added value, which we used to export.   We get more money from OEM and Product Stewardship laws to break an Optiplex computer with a bad capacitor than we can get paid (given the costs of R2 compliance, risk of "exporter" hysteria) by people who know how to fix that capacitor.

That is labelled "stewardship".  The "haves" will remain "stewards" of the product, and thus liable, if it's allowed to be exported and reused.   (I didn't allude to the ancient Chinese philosophy that if you rescue a man from drowning that you will be forever liable for whatever harm he does, as described to me at 5 years old by Maurice Votaw).

These laws did not exist a decade ago (except to some degree in Japan, as chronicled by Eric Williams at American University a decade ago - where I pointed out they were not "environmental" laws but anti-export-of-Japanese-added-value-electronics-to-competing-repair-economy laws).   But today, groups like Interpol appear to put as much emphasis on arresting African electronics repair entrepreneurs as they put on gun-running, ivory poaching, child soldiering, endentured sex trade, illegal forestry, or conflict metal mining.

She wanted to know more about "Hurricane Benson", but I was almost afraid at that point she was letting me gush about my own work.  I gave her info on WR3A and we'll see if she follows up.  She loved the "Recycling Ambassadors" idea, which I'll be writing about soon (the project of our new WR3A intern Camila Fernandez).

Jwaneng Diamond Mine
Botswana diamond mine
The conversation with Mosta went on well past a couple of hours, and she had plenty of her own perspectives to share.  She sees AIDS as the current focus in Botswana, and as much as she may distrust the "#poverty porn", "#greatwhitesavior", "#parasiteofthepoor" grant and aid based ecoonomies, she reminded me that the chance of death from disease in her country put risk of either "e-waste toxics" or "planned obsolescence" into a certain background that I had forgotten about.  (She said she'd speak to her mother about my "clean needles" theory of western syringes, used for treating gonorrhea etc., given HIV transmission via needles and my observation of needle reuse in Africa).

I'll just end with Mosta's frustration with "liberal bubble", and how upset she people get about the commencement speaker, Mdm Christine Lagarde of the IMF, who cancelled her address under the protests.  She was so polite at all times... but I was a bit impressed that her most emotional moment was incredulousness when a student "questioned her" about why she, as a student from Botswana, would not protest the commencement address from the IMF.  She and I both agreed that globalism has a lot of positives, and Mosta said that even if IMF makes plenty of mistakes she'd like to learn about them and to have a discussion on how the world would have looked had IMF never existed (A "It's a Wonderful Life" I kept to myself, she's more of a Shakespeare expert than a film buff.  She'd read the complete works of Shakespeare in high school).  Anyway, she was just kind of put off, apparently, by the naked liberal self-righteousness in a 20 year old who would protest a speech by a woman who was head of the International Monetary Fund.

That was excuse enough for me to share my riff on the "One Percenters".   Suppose it turned out, I said, that each and every person in the one-percent club had disappeared from the face of the earth three months ago and we only just now learned about it.  All their assets and stock had gone into social security, and it appeared that the only effect on our lives was that certain government budget deficits were going to be fixed much sooner than we thought.  But given the rich percent's disappearance, how many of us had noticed?  Or did it turn out that most of the problems we face, day to day, in our lives come from bullyboys, people much closer to us in income?  Are our lives more impacted by Donald Trump, or by a local asshole or bitch we know by name?

After the airplane lunch we went to the restroom and I put on my earphones to listen to music and give Mosta a break.  I know I can come off as a firehose in the field I'm most passionate about.   I must say I appreciate speaking to a young intelligent female economics student from Botswana, who seems to want to learn so much more than the Vermont officials who chose not to attend - or to allow the Governor to attend - the Middlebury College Fair Trade Recycling Summit of 2013.  They did not want to learn from the officials from USITC, NERC, ISRI, OEMs, or techs from Africa, Holland, or university researchers, or author Adam Minter.   Like the liberal bubbleheads at the college who got a commencement address from the woman head of the IMF cancelled, they find a kind of chilly victory in making sure that other people don't hear the opinions shared by someone they don't agree with.

Bullyboys, we have them everywhere.   Thanks to shared seats on row 51 of the KLM/Delta Flight 641, we have a meeting of the minds between two sexes from two continents, 30 years apart.  Maybe if I find myself on a flight next to David Mears or Deb Markowitz, they'll find out I'm an environmentalist who has cared about the emerging markets his entire life, and invested every dime his family had to create jobs in Vermont which would improve the world, save Vermont tax money, improve cooperation with OEMs.   But at least yesterday I had a feeling that whatever happens to Good Point Recycling, I've got a big world of people who agree with me and who would have appreciated what I tried to do if they'd had a say.

Denying people a say denies us all the Delta or difference in opinion we'd gain from open discourse.   The college could have offered a second speaker at another venue with an opposing point of view.  Instead, they made Christine Lagarde a victim, like Joe Benson, of bullyboys.
"By having her speak at our commencement, we would be publicly supporting and acknowledging her, and thus the IMF. Even if we give Ms. Lagarde the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that she is just a good person working in a corrupt system, we should not by any means promote or encourage the values and ideals that the IMF fosters." - Bubblehead Petition

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