Taipei vs Tokyo

Japan became a huge electronics manufacturing island.

Korea was a dumping ground for Japan and the reuse and remanufacturing business turned Korea into a major competitor. But there was enough wealth to go around.

Japan real estate is extremely expensive, and USA labor is expensive, and manufacturers in both countries began outsourcing assembly and other "non technological core businesses". This created "Electronic Contract Assembly" companies which might assemble a device - such as a TV - for many different brands.

Like many 'displaced' peoples, Taiwanese who had fled Communist China were more willing to travel and to invest in education rather than land. The Taiwanese became big developers in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Rim. Taiwan also became a natural outsource for circuit board manufacturing. I think by the end of the 1990s, the pieces were in place for Taipai to control printed circuit board production for almost every "commodity" (like calculators and clock radios vs. high end servers).

As the cathode ray tube became 'mature' technology (recall it had been considered very high tech in the 50's and 60s), that is one of the things that got outsourced. China was eager to take over the CRT business in the 1990s.

To make a long story short, there are Electronic Contract Manufacturers and circuit board factories all over Asia, some with hundreds of thousands of employees, that none of us could name. Since many of them already manufactured several different brands inside their own factory warehouse, the concept of "copyright" has been blurred.

Just as Korea and Singapore and Hong Kong developed rapidly into countries with living standards and engineering factories rivaling anything in California, China and Malaysia and Vietnam are poised to do the same (huge sections of Malaysia, like Penang and KL, are already there... and Shanghai is probably there by tomorrow evening).

Sure we want to protect brands and copyrights, but keeping Africa and Latin America in the dark means the USA is spending AID dollars to finance a dispute over Asian manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, eliminating the recycling outsource work makes recycling more expensive. We are allowing the outsourcing of mining new raw materials out of rain forests and coral reefs, meanwhile. We need to stop some madness, and not many environmentalists over the age of 40 seems to get it.

The environmental community needs to wake up and behave like grown ups. We have to study the "big secret factories" and not get pulled into dogfights between Tokyo and Taipei, or between Dell and Tiger Direct. Probably our best bet is to concentrate on extraction policy like the General Mining Act of 1872, and reinvest in rain forests, rather than study our landfills and garbage cans like they are a hippy's naval. This scatological period of environmental health study is so 1990.

The images of Guiyu China are real, but that is a big metals and plastic recycling dump for all of Guangdong as well as for the USA. There are much worse places where they are mining metals. Metal production is basically something city-folk don't go near. Sometimes I feel like I would if my children were being shown 1960s "Mothra Vs. Godzilla" movies in school and come home thinking they are learning prehistory and evolution. But we cannot fall into the trap of ignoring the impassioned energy of environmentalists, any more than hospitals could ignore the church in the history of western medecine. I'm sure there were times when the Church sanctioned the study of corpses and interfered with study - like it does with stem cells today. But there are a lot of "St." hospitals. Impassioned environmentalists need an outlet. It is natural for us to focus our anger and frustration on something in our own garbage can or hallway, our junk electronics are a reminder of the our money that we put into the extraction and pollution industries.

I am looking for a way forward. I think we can put together a fair trade schematic where the recycling jobs are improved, schoolkids get affordable computers, and the cost of waste is internalized through the end of virgin material subsidies.

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