Tag: capitalism


E-waste in China
Photo Source: Greenpeace

Demanufacturing is the process of disassembling, recycling, remanufacturing, or refurbishing outdated industrial and consumer products, particularly electronics (i.e. e-waste management, asset recovery, or urban mining) but also including activities such as shipbreaking, automobile shredding, devulcanization of rubber tires, etc. The tail end of the capitalist industrial production process was traditionally relegated to developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa as part of a broader ruthless and neo-racist practice of relocating polluting industries and processes in the periphery and semi-periphery. But demanufacturing firms are beginning to emerge in advanced industrial countries as a mechanism to ensure data security for e-waste, comply with environmental legislation/emerging global norms and conventions on toxic waste, make landfills more “efficient”, as well as to generate employment and profit from the re-use of lucrative materials.

The problem of e-waste is obviously created by the failure of capitalist industrial production processes to incentivize green designs and to “internalize” post-consumption. While there have been some voluntary and state-led initiatives to push industries to design green by using the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for the End-of-Life (EOL) stage of a product, the manufacturing industry in sectors like telecommunications and personal computing seem to have increasingly moved toward planned obsolescence with narrower and narrower time horizons (i.e. the iFad syndrome). Nevertheless, even if green design is still a dream in some sectors, the tide is turning toward more responsible demanufacturing in most of the world with a few exceptions. Only Afghanistan, Haiti, and the United States have yet to ratify the 1992 Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The US, Canada, and Japan still object to particular provisions of the convention which restrict the export of toxic materials from developed to less developed countries. The US also continues to use prison labor to demanufacture e-waste in order to avoid more restrictive labor protections afforded to the general workforce. Canada has ratified the Basel Convention but it uses dubious tactics to comply. (Canada’s questionable behavior on this issue is actually not too surprising — as those of us who live near mega-landfills in the US know — our friends to the north are more than willing to export their sludge to the US in order to make their own country appear “green” while harming their neighbor’s environment.) The domestic environmental lobby in the US, Canada, and Japan will need to be energized on this issue to compel adherence to the international convention. Meanwhile, the EU has moved toward the adoption of a complete ban on the export of toxic materials to developing countries.

While preventing the export of toxic e-waste to LDCs is laudable given the enormous health and environmental impacts and the incapacity of many of those states to enforce environmental regulations, there is still a need to share best industry practices, technology, and equipment in the demanufacturing sector with LDCs as they attempt to deal with their own share of e-waste. India, for example, generates approximately 800,000 tons of e-waste per year. Otherwise, the environmental movement against e-waste becomes little more than an attempt to use legislation to create/protect a new industry in the OECD countries without regard for a comprehensive global solution. The Preamble and Articles 10 and 14 of the Basel Convention do recognize the need for establishing regional and sub-regional technology transfer centers for the management and minimization of hazardous waste, but the obligation is completely voluntary on signatory countries.

Fulfilling the voluntary obligation to share technology on waste management will be rather difficult since demanufacturing is emerging as a competitive for-profit industry in OECD countries. One solution may be to encourage FDI in this sector as some Japanese demanufacturers, with assistance from the Japanese Environment Ministry, are already trying to break into the emerging market recycling sector. Unfortunately, while some countries may welcome FDI in demanufacturing others will feel domestic pressure to limit competition. UN agencies (e.g. UNESCAP’s Asia Pacific Center for Transfer of Technology) may be able to facilitate some technology transfer. Ultimately, however, I think non-governmental organizations and Western research universities — which are already established sites of international technology and norm transfer — will need to play a pivotal role in creating and disseminating techniques and norms. Thus, the first step is to introduce the concepts associated with demanufacturing in the university curriculum from economics and international relations to chemistry and biology…


A MarkZist Manifesto. Or Not.

Me: “Look, here’s ‘me and Rob Farley’.”

Stu: “Who’s Rob Farley?”

Me: “Dude. My co-blogger; also, he’s coming to dinner next Wednesday after his guest lecture on battleships in my human security class. That’s not the point. Look, look this is ‘our’ Facebook page.”

Stu: “You mean the Lawyers, Guns and Money page? I’ve visited it once or twice.”

Me: “Not the LGM page. See? Look.”

Stu: “Whoa. How did you do that?”

Me: “I didn’t do that; Facebook did it automatically.”

Stu: “How did you find out about it?”

Me: “Kid Number One told me. Her friends at high school are all over this.”

Stu: “I bet. Wow, this means you can easily research exactly what every pair of your friends has ever said to one another on Facebook? That’s pretty sweet.”

Me: “Sweet, yep. You can find out exactly how strong or weak your ties to your different friends are, relative to your other friends, much more easily now. And you can be sure that everyone else can see that too. I can imagine high-schoolers are going to have new ways to stigmatize each other now.”

Stu: “Oh, you’re always so down on Facebook. I happen to like Mr. Zuckerberg.”

Me: “I worry about cyber-bullying.”

Stu: “But come on, admit this is cool. I wonder what the algorithm is like they use to choose the profile picture they use for your page. Let’s see what we look like.”

Me: “OK, here you go…. Aww. Look at us. It’s Kid Number Two’s birthday party.”

Stu: “I look really bad in that picture. Oh look, it appears we attended the Rally for Sanity together.”

Me: “Looks like FB pledges were a pretty good indicator of the crowd size after all. Huh.”

Stu: “Hey, I want to see what ‘You and your buddy Alex’ look like. Don’t roll your eyes.”

Me: (typing) “That was a twitch, not a roll. Hmm. Now this is interesting. Alex must know some privacy settings I don’t.”

Stu: “Inconceivable.”

Me: (dryly) “I see his and my Lexulous games don’t appear here; that’s good since that’s where all the excitement actually goes on.”

Stu: “Ha, ha.”

Me: “You know, this is really invasive.”

Stu: “Why? Are you saying you have something to hide?”

Me: “No, but it shouldn’t matter. The depth and nature of my relationships with my online friends shouldn’t be easier to find now than they were when I was choosing to present them online.”

Stu: “What difference does that make?”

Me: “All the difference. Everything people put on a site like FB is a carefully chosen representation of who they are and how they are connected to others, and one’s judgment about those representations is based on who you think you’re presenting it to – your understanding of who can see it – and how they can see it. This new architecture changes that, not only going forward but apparently going back, yet had this architecture been in place previously people might have chosen to present themselves online differently, more strategically.”

Stu: “I don’t think most people are as ‘strategic’ as you IR theorists are. And I don’t see how that’s Facebook’s responsibility anyway. Mark Zuckerberg and his talented crew of developers have created a cool new idea that will make it easier, among other things, to study those FB relationships. Network scholars like you should be estatic; one less thing you need to build. Perhaps Facebook will give estimates of error and validity, unlike some folks I hear about.”

Me: “It’s true that now we have precise data on ties within FB as well as on nodes. Alex will like that.”

Stu: (feigning knowingly-ness) “I’m sure he will.”

Me: “Don’t deflect my argument with your sideways comments. The purpose of Facebook isn’t, or shouldn’t be, to provide an open book for social scientists about citizens’ online behavior. It’s to connect people, but it’s to allow them to control those connections.”

Stu: “I suppose you could say the purpose of politics is not to provide an open book for studying as well, but as political scientists that might get us in some trouble with APSA.”

Me: “Facebook isn’t politics. People on Facebook aren’t public figures, they’re private citizens.”

Stu: “Isn’t the personal political?”

Me: “I do not think that means what you think it means.”

Stu: “Anyway it’s not just citizens on Facebook now. It’s everything: it’s corporations, civic groups, politicians. Facebook is basically the new internet. You aren’t uncomfortable with the Internet being open, are you?”

Me: “It may be morphing into the new Internet, but that’s not the function it was built for and it’s not what individuals signed up for when they created their accounts. They signed up for exclusivity, for the ability to create walls around their communities of friends and choose who to let in. And here’s what gets me: Zuckerberg knew that exclusivity is what would make Facebook popular. Yet over time he’s trying to undermine that with all these little maneuvers. The news feed. The ‘we own your data’ announcement. Making profile pictures public. The ‘Everyone’ default setting. And now the ‘You and X’ tool.”

Stu: “But you know what else is interesting. People who didn’t like the news feed used the news feed to argue against it. People protesting Facebook policies benefit from those policies in forming their protest.”

Me: “Just because you’re exercising voice instead of exit doesn’t mean you have to be loyal.”

Stu: “Fine, but I also don’t buy the argument that there is a “purpose” (singular) for Facebook. It stopped being for one purpose (if it ever was) a long time ago and since its graduation to a platform, the idea of The Real Purpose is even more preposterous. Facebook is a wildly popular platform for thousands of purposes. I find it interesting and worthy of study precisely for this reason.”

Me: That’s because you’re a MarkZist.

Stu: (laughing) “It’s true! I am a MarkZist. I was trained to study Karl Marx by old school Marxists. Now I study the machinations of an online world envisioned by Mark Z. To me, being a MarkZist means embracing, honoring and yes studying the distributed means of content production defined by the Internet and perfected by Facebook.”

Me: “I mean more than that. I mean that Zuckerberg subscribes to an entire hacktivist information-freedom-fighting culture that values truth and transparency for its own sake. But it’s not enough for him to hold and promote that ideology by striking against the powers that be in any way he can, like Julian Assange; Zuckerberg’s means are more nefarious. He imposes his ideology on users, seductively, through the architecture of his tool itself. People who like this ideology and are happy to see it inflicted on others through the tyranny of architecture are MarkZists.”

Stu: “I always struggle with the word ‘inflict’ in this context. There is no requirement to have a Facebook page. I do like that Facebook embraces architecture as a means for social change. It is hard to know in the moment what effect their ‘ideology’ will have on us ten years from now. After all, you’re not a Marxist are you?”

Me: “No, apparently just a socialist.”

Stu: (continuing) “And I wouldn’t say he’s fighting for information to be freed as an end in itself. I would say he imagines that freedom of information sobers people’s behavior.”

Me: “Who wants sobriety? People want the freedom to be human, to have secrets and different masks for different social contexts. And they don’t want information to be free, except about others in power over them; they want the freedom to control information about themselves.”

Stu: “Then they shouldn’t be on the Internet.”

Me: “I see. Anyone who doesn’t get in line behind MarkZism should be excluded from the information economy and the modern age. Sounds like totalitarianism to me.”

Stu: “It’s not totalitarianism. It’s capitalism.”

Me: “This isn’t about profit for Zuckerberg. He’s got a social agenda that he promotes through his company.”

Stu: “So does the entire green business community.”

Me: “But Zuckerberg’s agenda isn’t to save the planet or promote the common good. It’s to undermine our liberties. He has come out and said that he believes the age of privacy is over, all our identities should be public and he is planning to teach us these new social norms through his tools. And I for one think there is something rather frightening about that agenda.”

Stu: “Not everyone is as hung up on that as you. And just because someone’s frightened of something doesn’t mean it’s bad. No one should be punished simply for openly subscribing to MarkZism.”

Me: “Don’t dismiss me as some fear-industrial-complex mouthpiece. Yu know who else is ‘hung up’ on this? Congress is. Henry Farrell is.

Stu: “Who’s Henry Farrell?”

Me: “A blogger who might be very concerned about the software you’re building to allow people to study Facebook and Twitter feeds.”

Stu: “Tell him 30 days free trial is normal, but for him, 45. (chuckling) Anyway, that’s a perfect example. Our software only captures public information on Facebook feeds, whatever users share with “Everyone” using the API Open Graph. It can’t see anything that’s actually private. Folks could change their settings, after all.”

Me: “Fine, but my whole argument is that Facebook has made it so difficult to maintain your privacy that most people don’t even realize how public their information is. And now not only can anyone in the world see it who’s looking for it, but people like you are incentivizing the looking by making it easy and interesting to capture, archive and study those social relations.”

Stu: “But people have the responsibility to inform themselves. I mean, it’s true that some people will say, are you building tools to spy on folks? Of course not, I say. People are using other tools and platforms like Facebook and Youtube to spy on themselves and we just make it a bit easier.”

Me: “Spoken like a true MarkZist.”

Stu: “If they don’t like it, they can leave Facebook.”

Me: “It’s not that easy to commit a Facebook Suicide. That’s like saying, ‘America: Love it or Leave it.'”

Stu: “Please. You’re honestly comparing relocation out of one’s country to the choice of whether or not to switch software applications?”

Me: “Absolutely. In fact, I think leaving one’s physical country is actually easier than leaving one’s online social network, because so much of our social activity now is based on the Internet rather than on face-to-face interactions within our country. Thanks to Facebook, you can emigrate without losing your social network whom you rarely see anyway, but you can’t kill your Facebook page and keep your friendships intact because they’re so embedded now in social media.”

Stu: “That’s a tough sell.”

Me: “Well, maybe if you read some of my blog posts, you would understand why you’re wrong about that.”

Stu: “It’s cute how shocked you are that I don’t read all your posts. Look, I’ll prove how specious this argument is. I’ll delete my FB account right now. It’s not hard.”

Me: “Go for it. Delete your account. It’s harder than you think, and if you succeed, you’ll no longer be able to promote your software or your research articles through your FB page to your network; you’ll no longer have any idea what my ten brothers and sisters are saying about you; you won’t receive “hi cutie-pie” notes from me anymore; and most important you’ll have no way to keep track of what my friendship with Alex looks like on Facebook. Are you really going to give all that up?”

Stu: (pause) “OK, I’m going to think about it first, then delete my page. (thinking) OK, OK you have a point. But I’m making a choice to stay. And so I need to be prepared to accept whatever the Mark has in store for me.”

Me: “Ah, yes. Facebook: the opiate of the masses.”

Stu: “You’re one of those masses. When you write up your thoughts from this conversation on your blog and post the link to Facebook, won’t you be glad it goes viral precisely because of the architecture they’ve created? It’s like you’re saying that Facebook should never innovate.”

Me: “No, I’m saying that companies should innovate in a way that lets consumers opt in to the new features. What they should not do is significantly change the architecture unbidden, and along with it the meaning of people’s previous speech acts online. For example, FB could have announced the You and X feature, and made it possible to activate it for certain friends and not others, or made it possible to change the settings so I could see my relationships with certain friends (and they would have to agree) but others could only see those relationships if both I and my friend want them to.”

Stu: “But look at it from the point of view of Zuckerberg. He needs to make money somehow. He makes money by innovating.”

Me: “But he makes money with ads, and by selling those silly little FB credits in Walmart. And you don’t have to be evil to make money. Even Google thinks Facebook is hypocritical. Google, Stu. Do you remember when that GoogleZon video first came out on YouTube? You were the first person to be scared of the idea that one company would dominate digital information on the web. And now Facebook is trying to turn itself into the new web, only with a very different architecture deliberately sculpted to mold society in line with one man’s vision, a vision that over-writes centuries of Enlightenment norms.”

Stu: “But his vision isn’t about information domination. It’s about a new kind of transparency. It is a belief that everyone gets to have their fifteen minutes of fame and the fifteen people who think they are the bees knees. MarkZists think you can have this everyday and that their innovations make it happen more often for more people than ever before. It’s about letting people create and use data in nifty ways we cannot predict. As far as the history of capitalism goes, they are the fastest growing company ever. Those are marketplace votes; validation of a vision.”

Kid Number Two: “Can you guys stop arguing?”

Me: “Oh, we’re not arguing; we’re just having a spirited and very reasonable discussion.”

Kid Number One: “Whatever. What are we having for dinner?”

Stu: “More to the point, what are we having for dinner when this Rob guy comes to visit?”

Me: “Um, I think he’s a fan of potions.”

EPILOGUE: Kid Number Two: (later, at dinner) “So. What were you two arguing about anyway?”

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


DVD review; “Capitalism: A Love Story”

Up front, I’ll admit that Michael Moore movies appeal to me. My politics lean left, I embrace populist sensibilities on many issues, and I strongly believe that humor can be employed to levy an effective critique of politics.

  • Roger and Me,” which told the dismal story of the relationship between General Motors and Flint, Michigan, was a personal story for Moore since it concerned his hometown and was a strong beginning for his career as a documentary film maker.
  • Bowling for Columbine,” which used the infamous Colorado high school shootings by two teenage boys to examine America’s love affair with guns, was an outstanding work — certified by its Oscar victory.
  • The polemical “Fahrenheit 9/11” revealed some interesting truths to a wider audience concerning the Bush administration, the “war on terrorism,” and its application to Iraq.
  • Finally, Moore’s health care movie, “Sicko,” had some strong moments and made Americans think about the U.S. system compared to systems available in other countries. Not every sector of the economy, he seemed to be saying, should be ruled by free market principles.

In his latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Moore extends this critique more widely.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Unfortunately, even though the film included some very fine moments, such as the focus on the 2008 worker sit-in at Republic Windows and Doors in Illinois, I did not enjoy most of Moore’s latest film. Too often, it seemed like Moore lost his narrative thread by exploring weak tangential points.

For example, consider the fairly long section revealing that companies sometimes take out life insurance policies on their workers. It does seem crass, particularly the way Moore framed the issue, but it is also pits one for-profit enterprise (the company buying insurance) against another (the insurance company). Actuarial tables and luck play a big role in deciding who earns and who loses in individual cases. Moore implied that companies had a profit motive in the death of their employees, but the insurance companies likewise have a profit motive in their life. Why is this a generalized critique of capitalism?

Moreover, rhetorically, I think the film would have been better targeted at the corporate and financial sectors of the economy rather than at the economic system as a whole. This is especially important given that the film offers very little about what he thinks might supplant “capitalism.”

Like Moore, I am very sympathetic towards FDR’s second bill of rights and share many of Jimmy Carter’s 1979 concerns about Americans’ worshiping self-indulgence and consumption. Yet, these ideas are not introduced in the film in such a way as to suggest a viable alternative to capitalism. Indeed, the men who originally offered those ideas likely saw them as means by which to counter the power of “economic royalists” (to use FDR’s phrasing). Reforming capitalism to make it more European doesn’t seem like a death sentence.

Worse, I thought that this film’s populism teetered awfully close to the anti-bailout arguments made by the tea party members. I’m not sure Tim Geithner (read this terrific profile) is an economic genius, but Moore’s criticisms of the bailout used many of the same rhetorical devices employed by those who don’t understand Keynesian economics. Moore seemed to be criticizing the size of the bailouts and the government efforts to stimulate the economy as much as he was the corporate recipients.

Yes, many of the funds were employed in dubious ways, but the TARP repayments provide a major counterargument to Moore’s apparent thesis. Moore’s populism works better against corporate greed (when he focuses his camera appropriately) rather than against government efforts to stimulate the economy. FDR would have designed different programs, but his thinking was similar

:“Into the ears of many of you have been dinned the cry that your Government has been piling up an unconscionable and back breaking debt. Let me tell you a simple story. In the Spring of Nineteen hundred and thirty-three, many of the great bankers of the United States flocked to Washington. They were there to get the help of their government in the saving of their banks from insolvency. To them I pointed out, in all fairness, the simple fact that you couldn’t make bread without flour. The simple fact that the government would be compelled to go heavily into debt for a few years to come in order to save banks and save insurance companies and mortgage companies and railroads, and to take care of millions of people who were on the verge of starvation. And every one of these gentlemen expressed to me at that time the firm conviction that it was all well worth the price and that they heartily approved”.

The film’s ending, featuring Moore trying to make a citizen’s arrest of AIG executives, backing a Brink’s truck up to various banks and asking for “our money” back, and wrapping “crime scene” tape around Wall Street’s famous bull, all seem like self-indulgent publicity stunts rather than valuable symbolic acts of political protest. By comparison, Moore lining up Cuban health care for some needy Americans in “Sicko” seemed high-minded, poignant, and effective.

I think “Capitalism: A Love Story” is worth viewing, but don’t expect to be wowed. This Michael Moore fan wasn’t.


New Bookstore

I have mixed feelings about the Amazon “affiliate program,” mostly because I have mixed feelings about Amazon. Nevertheless, I’ve just changed the Duck of Minerva Bookstore to an Amazon aStore.

I’m actually more interested in using their aStore feature as a way of easily creating lists of recommended books on specific topics.

I hope that I, and my co-bloggers, will be able to construct some lists for specific topics in international-relations theory, baseball, science fiction, and other areas using this feature.

But if you do intend to purchase one of our books in the near future, this is a good way to steer some of the money you spend in my direction. The last certificate I earned helped offset some very important toy purchases for my daughter.


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