Let them eat laptops

Early reviews of One Laptop per Child's (OLPC) finished product – the XO, or "$100 laptop" – extol its many innovative features. None of these reviews, however, mention what the XO fails to provide, such as a source of clean drinking water, abundant and nutritious food, or medicines for curable diseases, says Daniel Ballon, a Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.

Further, the project could actually hurt developing countries, says Ballon:

  • OLPC's business model actually requires substantial investment from the governments, diverting limited resources away from a population's critical needs.

  • The "$100 laptop," which actually costs $188, can only be purchased at a minimum quantity of 250,000.

  • OLPC targets countries like Nigeria, where one out of three children suffer from malnutrition; there a $50 million minimum investment could instead be used to feed more than a million children for an entire year.

    Beyond exploitation, OLPC seems to feel entitled to a monopoly, shaming Intel's rival low-cost laptop. Apparently the non-profit group fails to understand a basic market concept, says Ballon:

  • In a free market, consumers enjoy the freedom to purchase those products that best suit their needs.

  • When governments make purchasing decisions on behalf of the people, they rob the consumer of that freedom.

  • If OLPC wished to compete in the free market, they would target their product directly to the consumer.

  • By opting instead to lobby for government contracts, OLPC ensures that the XO remains immune from market forces.

    If OLPC cannot wait for a laptop market to materialise or distribute the XO exclusively by donation, there are viable alternatives for realising the project's mission, says Ballon. The use of cell phones is skyrocketing in the developing world. By the end of next year, this market will include 50 per cent of the world's population. Mobile devices are an inexpensive, tested technology, and increasingly offer access to the Internet.

    Source: Daniel Ballon, Let Them Eat Laptops, TCS Daily, November 7, 2007.

    For text: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=110707A

    For more on International Issues: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_Category=26

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 27 November 2007
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