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$100 laptop may not be such a good idea

Via Emergic: October 1, 2005 Archives, from The Economist:

The idea is as audacious as it altruistic: provide a personal laptop computer to every schoolchild—particularly in the poorest parts of the world. The first step to making that happen is whittling the price down to $100. And that is the goal of a group of American techno-gurus led by Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the fabled MIT Media Lab. When he unveiled the idea at the World Economic Forum in January it seemed wildly ambitious. But surprisingly, it is starting to become a reality. Mr Negroponte plans to display the first prototype in November at a UN summit. Five countries—China, Brazil, Egypt, Thailand and South Africa—have said they will buy over 1m units each. Production is due to start in late 2006.

If countries (meaning their governments) are going to make a buying decision then it is going to be a sure waste. I will bet that Dell or some other manufacturer will come with a very low cost small PC/laptop or a totally new innovation while providing millions of jobs to third world people if only these same countries will allow investment and freedom to trade and contract.


Ashish Hanwadikar

Five countries—China, Brazil, Egypt, Thailand and South Africa—have said they will buy over 1m units each.

You don't see anything wrong with the fact that governments have agreed to buy over 1 million units even before production has started?
And I am sure World Bank or some "enlightened" foriegn governments will provide assistance for this. So, money comes from one hand and given back through another hand. And everybody gets a good press coverage.
Whether the laptops reach the kids and if they do reach, whether kids actually make a productive use of them is another matter. I don't think press will be around to report these things. They will move on to next big thing at that time.
If you have read about the Oil-for-food scandal then you wouldn't trust governments or world bodies like UN.
Also, very importantly, there is an opportunity cost for every attempt. In other words, the money that MIT is going to spend on this project is going to come from higher taxes. I can bet you any amount of money that if taxes are reduced in developed countries by throwing away such wasteful projects, and then developing countries open up their imports, open up their economies to foriegn investments and improve the law and order situation you could have $50 laptop and many other benefits.

Do you really think Dell and other manufacturers would have sat back and done nothing if they were confident that $100 laptops can be delivered profitably?

Looks like in this project "everbody" involved is getting what they want. MIT media lab will get funding and press exposure; foriegn governments will get press exposure also and alongwith that foriegn aid and plenty of opportunity to indulge in corruption. It is only the kids in the developing countries and tax-payers in the developed countries who will bear the burden.


Ashish, I agree with you that the $100 laptop is a bad idea.

My reason is that poor countries, for which this gadget is being developed, have more fundamental needs than a fancy toy. In India, for example, many schools lack teachers, blackboards, desks, clean classrooms, toilets. We are not even talking about libraries and labs, here. In this scenario, ministers need not even be bribed; they would jump at the first opportunity to get themselves on the front pages of all the newspapers, which love their 'modern' ministers peddling post-modern gadgets.

Brazil and China, whose economic situation is somewhat better than ours, may be able to afford this, but not India.


Ashish, I personally like the idea of providing a laptop to every kid. The One kid One laptop program is idealistic yes, but then most grandiose ideas are.

Two generations ago, every kid had to have a slate with chalk to write on.

A generation or so ago, it was a notebook. Even today it is a notebook.

I dont see anything wrong with it being a laptop tomorrow.

From what i hav read elsewhere, Negroponte and his offices will somehow administer the program but will ask the governments to pay for the cost of the laptop.

I dont see that as a bad idea.

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