All posts by TheModernConservative

Your Device’s Afterlife

We are far enough into the digital age that massive electronic waste is a pervasive problem for even the developing world.

The churn of new and discarded personal phones, tablets, computers, TVs, navigation devices, etc. means the average person is generating toxic trash on a regular basis, and there are no indications of a slowdown.

Recycling of glass, metal, and paper has been a long-term success because there are manufacturing buyers for those materials (one aluminum can is worth about 2 cents). The market can support not only the costs of collection and cleaning, but also efforts to educate the public and to advertise for the desired action of using bins and cooperating with local governments.

According to the EPA, in 2016 recycling created:

  • 681,000 jobs
  • $37.8 billion in wages; and
  • $5.5 billion in tax revenues.

As for electronics, CDs can be shredded into polycarbonate plastic, but buyers are hard to find. Still, businesses exist for collecting old and unused electronics. Many also perform data wipes and so offer a security benefit.

OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are obligated to help with cleanup in the life cycle. This is enforced by Extended Producer Responsibility laws, which are administered mostly by states; for manufacturers to sell in that state, they must take some responsibility for end of life recycling or disposal. The amount of assistance required is usually determined by market share.

Collections are even moving to the developing world; phone manufacturers use revenue from new phone sales to collect and ship phones from places like Africa to be properly disposed of elsewhere.

Closing the Loop is a Dutch company working on e-waste in Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia:

Initially, the idea was to generate revenue entirely from the value of commodities recovered from phones in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. But the economics of that approach didn’t work because it was so costly to try to set up new collection networks. “We lost money there,” said (founder) De Kluijver. “Let’s just call it ‘learning money.’” In 2016, the business pivoted toward the current offset model with corporate backing.

Closing the Loop partners with local stores and churches.

“(Large corporations) funding the initiative can then promote the fact that for each new product they put on the market, an old one has been collected and processed through proper channels. (As of early 2019), the effort has collected roughly 2 million devices...

“I believe the telecom industry is the first global industry that could really become waste free,” De Kluijver said. “The more customers we support, the more waste we can collect. And that allows us to become more and more a metal producer – an urban mining one.”

We applaud the electronics manufacturers practicing corporate responsibility AND maintaining brand integrity. Furthermore, we recognize that EPR laws are an example of positive government oversight, happening in the US at the state level — much preferable to federal. Without these regulations, the tragedy of the commons would result in dystopian metal waste dumps all over your neighborhood and in your water. Happy shopping!

Semantically Drifting in the Internet Topography (and Other Weekend Vibes)

Here is some of what we read and thought about this past week:

  1. There is an insidious, maladaptive focus on zealous employees  during recruitment. (The Atlantic)
  2. Meet the rural warriors stocking your Amazon cart. (The Verge)
  3. Why we assign geographical characteristics to vague concepts, especially in the digital “space.” (NY Times)

The Light Ahead

Assuming you believe income inequality to be a problem (economically, socially), then we must next turn our thoughts to alternative methods for economic mobility besides a four year degree, benefits of which do not always justify the costs. One such company creating an alternative is Pursuit in Queen’s, NY. Pursuit is a trade school for software development. It is also partly funded by bonds, where graduates pay back a share of income. “I believe tech can be a road to the middle class for large numbers of Americans,” said (Jukay) Hsu, a co-founder and the chief executive of Pursuit, a nonprofit social venture. “But there’s real skepticism about that among people who see the winners in technology as a small network of the privileged.” Pursuit’s success can likely be attributed to its adherence to high-demand, high-paying job skills, however, the model is worth replicating.  Construction, medicine, nursing, graphic design or art…what fields can you imagine creating a bond system?

Book Review: Sway; The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, 2008.

These brothers offer an attractive read that is notably more compelling than most pop-psychology fare. While the book does not clearly delineate a list, MC has bucketed the irrational factors referenced in the book. They include:

1. Loss aversion — the tendency to overemphasize what will be lost, at the expense of what may be gained.

2. Commitment — aka sunk cost. Similar principle to the above, but with time and reputation.

3. Value attrition — favoring preconceived traits and circumstances over objective facts.

4. Diagnosis bias — our reluctance to change our minds once we have decided on someone or something.

5. Rose-colored glasses — dismissal of info that contradicts our hopes.  Overestimating our objectivity.

6. Chameleon effect — predilection to act as we are treated / perceived.  Self-fulfilling prophecies–how your behavior can change an outcome.

7. Procedural justice –the value of a fair process. Willingness to punish someone at our own  expense.

8. The disincentive of money to altruism. Paying people for certain sacrifices can backfire as repulsion.

9. Dissension, and the value of blocking — even incompetent and erroneous blocking.  Breaking the spell of groupthink.

Which one sways you the most?  Write to us!





Did Modernist Architecture Fail? No Way

Modernist architecture and its adherence to functionality have forever changed how we view buildings.  The US’s history rivals that of Europe, especially in the Midwest.  According to this article, “(Michigan is) home to perhaps the most diverse and best-preserved collection of early Modernist experiments in the world,” thanks to the number of architects who experimented there.

Some consider the Modernist movement a failure because it did not bring people geographically and emotionally closer, as hoped. However, this minimizes the benefits we do see. The variety of materials, the safety, and the increased natural light are all parts of the legacy.

In the 2011 documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, about the ambitious and infamous housing project in St. Louis, the demolished buildings are commemorated as symbols of urban crime. In a cruel twist of fate, the architect Minoru Yamasaki’s other most famous building was also demolished: The World Trade Center in NYC.

Pruitt-Igoe’s construction was paid for by the federal government, but maintenance came from rent. The same 1949 law that built public housing also encouraged suburban homeownership, and suburban flight quickly took away the tax base for all city services.

As for the vandalism and violence, those left behind were allegedly angry at society and lashing out.

None of this is the result of the modernist architecture built to foster a community. So, modernism’s failure is the ultimate “urban myth.”

Image result for modernist office architecture





You Don’t Own Me

Apple’s lockdown on modifications to its products.  Netflix for DVDs. Uber/Lyft for auto transportation. Kindle for books (no, you do not own your purchases according to the fine print).

Americans now own less stuff, which leads Tyler Cowen to wonder if this phenomenon of surrendering the rights of ownership is a negative for society.  Many individuals find copious ownership to be out of reach, at least for the lifestyle that is both desired and readily available “for rent.” Housing is now just one piece of that trend.

We at MC do NOT think this trend of transient proprietorship is a harbinger of a collectivist state, but instead, represents the sum of individuals’ rational cost-benefit decisions in the internet-based economy. Would you agree?






Is American Tourism Hurting Cuban-Americans?

For Cuban-Americans who had family property confiscated by the Castro regime 60 years ago, the new wave of American tourism to the island is not a positive development.

A number of US cruise lines are docking in Havana and Santiago, whose ports were once privately owned by Cuban citizens.  Today, those families of the former owners, who have since come to the US, want the financial benefits they believe they have a right to.  And because the US government is allowing such water travel, they are asking the US government to help recoup.

Within the Helms-Burton Act of 1996,  Americans or Cuban-Americans whose properties were stolen after the 1959 Revolution are allowed to sue.  However, that part of the agreement is not enforced.

In retaliation for the claims, Cuba is asking for, “hundreds of billions of dollars for its counter claims, which it says are the accumulated damages of more than a half-century of U.S. hostility.”

This makes Cuban-American reimbursement seem very unlikely. Another point: Cuban exile benefits in America are already notoriously cush. So, dear reader, do you think these two families have claim to the port revenues?