Every time I have to purchase equipment I think about recycling, and I’ll share some of my thoughts on the subject.

There are several kinds of recycling:

  • Upgrading or servicing the existing equipment in order to extend its usefulness in its current function (example: upgrading the existing computer’s RAM and replacing HDD with an SSD in order to increase its performance, and keeping it as your current device).

  • Re-purposing obsolete equipment after its replacement had been purchased, and relegating it to some secondary yet necessary role (using an old computer as a HTPC for playing movies, or to replace a family member’s even older and weaker device).

  • Selling equipment on the used market in order to extract the remaining value in form of money, and leaving it to others, who might find the performance satisfactory, to get the remaining use from the device. Donating old equipment can be seen as a combination of that, and giving the money to charity.

  • Disassembling the device and re-using it for parts.

  • Recycling the device for raw materials which can then be re-used for manufacturing a new, modern device.

You basically have the same issue with cars; when you have an old car, how long does it make sense to invest in repairing it and keeping it in function, and when is it more sensible to buy a new or newer vehicle and relegate the old one to a secondary role, give it to a family member who might find it useful even in its present state, sell it to reclaim the remaining value, sell it for parts or have it recycled for the raw materials?

I recently watched a YouTube channel about a married couple that left the city to live on a parcel of land in some rural part of America, I think Idaho or something similar in the mountains, and they basically decided to do it on the cheap, living in a trailer while they gradually build their infrastructure from scratch, using mostly reclaimed materials. When they managed to do something by using essentially their own labor and almost no other resources, they were very proud of their achievement. The whole thing struck me as an example of bad economic thinking, and I’ll explain why.

First of all, the closer you are to processing the raw materials, the cheaper your labor. Essentially, whatever else you do, it will be cheaper to do it, get the money, and use part of that money to pay for the cheaper labor of the lower-qualified workers. If my work-hour costs ten work-hours of a backhoe operator, if I learn to operate a backhoe and use it to do work, I didn’t save n backhoe operator hours, I wasted 9n of my hours worth of money. Essentially, every hour I spend doing someone else’s work, is a loss of money, because I’m no longer earning the money to finance the spending, I’m using up my reserves and reducing my earning potential, because I’m learning how to do work that’s 10x less valuable on the market, and forgetting how to do work that’s 10x more valuable. The only reason why one should abandon his work and learn how to operate a backhoe or mill tree trunks into planks is if it’s more valuable on the market than what he’s already doing. Essentially, the efficient way of doing things is to do your job and let others to theirs’. That way, you get paid for what you do, and you pay others for what they do, and the net result is a wealthy society. If you neglect your job in order to “save money” by doing the others’ job, you are basically abandoning your career and starting anew, from scratch. If that’s what you want to do, fine; also, if that makes economical sense to you, it means that your career is either not bringing you the income it is supposed to, or you didn’t do the math.

So, basically, there appears to be some kind of a mathematical equation that shows if investing work and suffering poor functionality of equipment is worth more than the money-value of investing in either new equipment or in others’ labor. At some point, it’s more economical to get rid of something and either sell it or scrap it, than to keep owning it. On the other hand, at some part of the function it makes more sense to fix something and prolong its useful life than to invest money in a replacement. The most important variable seems to be the value of your labor, and the importance of some piece of equipment for your work. To me, it makes more sense to invest in the newest computers, than to invest in a new car, because I don’t use a car for work. Even if a car breaks down, it doesn’t significantly alter my ability to earn money. It simply becomes less convenient to get groceries. However, if my computer breaks down or even if it becomes too slow, it is a disaster and I need to replace it as soon as I can pay for the replacement, because if my computers die I’m basically fucked, because I use them for both work and information-gathering in order to be up-to date with things, not to mention keeping others up to date. Essentially, I can do without a car for a month, and I can do without a computer for a day. My absolutely essential equipment consists of a desktop machine, a laptop machine that is a fully-capable stand-in replacement for the desktop machine, and a smartphone that makes it possible for me to leave my home office and stay completely up to date with work and to react immediately when necessary. With those three devices, I can basically be completely mobile, go somewhere for a day or ten days and keep working. Without a smartphone, I couldn’t leave the office during work hours, in case I’m needed; since my work hours are 9 to 22, I would get out of shape and degrade quickly. Without a laptop, I couldn’t leave town for more than a day; hence no vacation, and I couldn’t recover from the accumulated strain, and would therefore degrade. Without a desktop computer, it’s game over. So, essentially, I could do quite nicely without most of my clothes, or without a car, or without my walls being freshly painted, and I can easily skimp on those and use the time when I get the car fixed as an excuse to take a walk. If my computer, laptop or a smartphone dies, the only walk I’m talking is to the computer store to get a replacement, because the moment I stop working is the moment I start the process of functional degradation. A taxi driver will have different priorities – for him it’s car first, everything else third.

And this equation of priorities, of things you can sacrifice if necessary, things you can live without if necessary, and things that are your yellow, orange and red lines – of gradual degradation, inability to recover the lost capability, and irreversible loss of capability and eventual destruction, are universal, and that’s why I used this example. It’s a matter of life and death to the entire Western civilization, because they are fucking with the Russians in a way that can be mathematically expressed. You can slander them, sanction them and reduce the price of the goods they export so that you harm their economy. That’s their yellow line – they can take it for years, knowing it will harm them, but the alternative is a nuclear holocaust that is an even greater harm, so they will take the loss for the time and maneuver to change the strategic situation. You can build up weapons at their borders, depose governments in their neighborhood in order to destabilize them, surround them with military bases, and try to draw them into a conventional war. That’s the orange line, something they can take to a degree, but will very quickly maneuver in order to avoid anything that would either imminently cause a direct war, or irreversibly degrade their position. When you cross their red line, you and everybody you know, love, hate or have ever heard of reaches the temperature of the Sun within 30 minutes.

That’s how it works. If you can’t help it, you live with it. If you can’t live with it, very bad shit starts happening very quickly. It’s all game theory, nothing new here. Use common sense to see where their red line is. Cross it in order to die.