Monday, November 15, 2010

"The Story of Electronics" Latest "The Story of Stuff" Video

On my recent post about recycling an old computer, M left a link to a new "Story of Stuff" video, this one focused on electronic equipment called "The Story of Electronics." It came out November 9.  My post is just an illustration of the point being made in the video.   Again, Annie Leonard clearly and succinctly outlines the problem of our designed to throw away culture.  This is definitely worth watching.

It helps to understand the economics concept of externalities -  or as Annie calls it - "externalizing costs."  It's one of the failures of the market system identified even by proponents of the market as a failure.  Milton Friedman, in his Capitalism and Freedom, called them 'neighborhood effects."  Basically, capitalism is supposed to work better than government by doing things more efficiently.  By being more efficient, companies can make items cheaper and sell more products.  But this only works if the price of the item reflects the cost of making the item.  But if some of the costs of the items are not borne by the company making them, then this efficiency doesn't work.  So, if the company doesn't have to pay for the air pollution it creates, then this cost won't be reflected in the price.  But society as a whole, which is affected by the pollution, still has to pay for extra health care and other costs that are 'externalized' by the company.  Thus, the efficiency of the market fails when these costs of production are externalized to the society as a whole and the company doesn't have to pay for them and they aren't reflected in the price of the items. 

The costs of landfills and the health costs resulting from the toxic chemicals in electronic equipment are key externalities discussed in the video.

The video's solutions are summed up as
Make 'Em Safe, Make 'Em Last, Take 'Em Back

I'd note that the original Story of Stuff video has resulted in one of my most viewed posts - my reaction to a quote by Victor Lebow in the video. 

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