Did someone say broken window fallacy?

An article is making its way up Reddit about how a Nigerian 5-year old is repairing OLPCs. Awesome. One more bit of malfunctioning technology for the third world to deal with, since it’s got that whole food/shelter/war/inflation/AIDS thing worked out already.

OLPC: not completely brokenThe spin is that this enterprising kindergartner is learning a trade fixing broken laptops, and by introducing broken products into the marketplace, OLPC is doing its part to magnanimously create labor for more children. It’s a business model Jean-Baptiste Zorg would be proud of.

Nevermind that some parts can be replaced for $1 when most kids can live on 80¢ a day. Nevermind that this opportunity came about because of broken hardware, or that this child’s time could be better spent elsewhere. Like at a school. Breaking things isn’t actually good for an economy. It’s all covered in the parable of the broken window.

By Tim

An animator, video producer, Lego artist, and author—I am moderately skilled at a lot of different things.

2 replies on “Did someone say broken window fallacy?”

I don’t think the story says the girl is learning a trade or that the breakage of the computers is a good opportunity. I think it says the opposite — that the computers are incredibly easy to fix, unlike the ones we have here, so repairing them takes no skill whatsoever. So at least they don’t have to be sent anywhere for service.

Since the users can swap out parts themselves, it’s more affordable to fix broken computers (no shipping costs, no need to pay people to process the machines or do repairs). The article also likes that shipping out parts burns less fuel than shipping computers round-trip to a repair center.

In the end, I agree with you: The computers are a bad idea. They’re apparently getting broken in the first place because five kids have to share each desk meant for two … which means the laptop money would be better spent on some fucking desks.

It seems like the article is taking kind of an apologist position, as if to say these laptops are breaking (which is bad), but think of the money we’re saving fixing them locally — but isn’t a broken laptop still a broken laptop?

I’m sure the LEDs powering the display are easy to replace, but it’s not like the OLPCs are made of mud and twigs… they’re microprocessors and circuits just like other laptops. I don’t see what’s so revolutionary about being able to swap out cheap parts, because if your hard disk is fried it’s not like you can mill a new one in your garage in rural Niger.

But yes, desks would be a good idea. You can even fix them locally!

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