The last time recyclers heard from business advisor and strategist Vikram Mansharamani he was onstage at the ISRI2022 Convention and Exposition in March delivering a lecture, “Challenges and Opportunities for Recycling in a Post-COVID Trade Environment.”
A global trend-watcher who teaches people how to anticipate the future, manage risk, and spot opportunities, Mansharamani predicted that the world is on the verge of bifurcating into two global economies, one of which will be a U.S.-led economic ecosystem, and the other being a Chinese-led economic ecosystem.
From rising inflation to the ongoing war in Ukraine much has changed since March. Scrap News recently caught up with Mansharamani to learn how his worldviews have changed over the last six months and potential impacts for the recycling industry.
Currently campaigning for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate primary, Mansharamani took time to talk about geopolitical trends, potential issues for the recycling industry, and his experience running for the Senate. The primary is Sept. 13, and the general election is Nov. 8.
ISRI members haven’t heard about your worldviews since your ISRI2022 address. Has your outlook changed since that time and why?
In March, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was recent. We didn’t know what was going on. The impact of the invasion and war have had ripples through the commodity markets and are accelerating what I suggested at ISRI2022, namely that the world is bifurcating into two ecosystems—one led by China and the other by the U.S.
That month we didn’t know how some of the country alignments would shake out [in response to Russia’s invasion]. In late March and early April, we saw some revealing votes in the UN and noted which countries abstained from condemning Russia’s invasion. India abstained and then bought Russian oil in rubles. Saudi Arabia sold oil to China, and it was paid for in renminbi. Those developments may point to longer term currency shifts.
I still think the world is bifurcating and is leading to concerns of commodity supply security. Take an area that’s different from recycling but still relevant—the world supply of potash. Potash is water soluble potassium that’s critical for plant growth. Without plant growth, it’s hard to imagine feeding a planet of eight or nine billion humans.
In 2020, four countries—Canada, Russia, Belarus, and China—accounted for 80% of the world’s potash production. Disruptions that occurred in the market because of the invasion in Ukraine highlighted the vulnerabilities of the global food production system. What might seem like an isolated geopolitical development in one part of the world is a big problem. I think we will see ripples in other sectors.
As the U.S.-China rivalry escalates, the U.S. will no longer want to depend on China for critical materials. Where will we get them from? I think the same is true for China. China is looking to central Asia and Africa to secure resources they previously depended on from the U.S. China doesn’t want to be dependent on the U.S. for essential inputs for their society, such as food. The bifurcation is accelerating.
If you addressed the recycling industry today, what key areas should they stay aware of?
I believe there will be a constantly increasing focus on the national security of having local or friendly sources of supply. I believe this will massively increase the pressure to recycle rather than import raw materials from potentially hostile countries.
Why struggle to secure rare earth metals, for instance, from other countries when they’re buried in the electronic devices we dispose of in the U.S.? Recycling will become more strategic and important going forward. I think this dynamic is more pertinent today than it was in March.
Another emerging issue is the accelerating and intensifying political will to adopt electrification strategies in the transportation sector. That will increase demand and pressure to recycling those electric vehicles along with the batteries they use to store energy.
While it’s easy to imagine this development as a major opportunity for ISRI members, it could also be a major threat if electronic vehicle manufacturers get into the electric vehicle or battery recycling business themselves. I think it’s an issue that recyclers and the industry should pay attention to.
Since March you’ve been busy campaigning to be the Republican nominee for one of New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate seats. How did you decide to run?
Like many in New Hampshire, I was uncomfortable with the direction of this country. I have a unique background and felt like I had something to offer, especially when it comes to addressing the problems this country is currently facing. I have over 30 years of experience in the business sector helping entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies create jobs and growth.
I think of myself as a global generalist, which essentially means I don’t live in one silo. I have interest in a variety of areas including global affairs, geopolitics, the financial markets, social trends, technology trends, education trends, etc. I’m currently working on a white paper for ISRI [for fall publication] titled “Current Trends & Implications for Recyclers.”
Most recently at Harvard, I taught a class called “Humanity and its Challenges.” Some of the major cases of global issues we covered are the ones we’re facing now: technology and jobs, inequality and capitalism, and migration and national borders. Given the alignment with the issues of the day and my experience, I felt I had something to offer in service to the nation.
This experience has made me more optimistic about America than I’ve ever been and more pessimistic about America than I’ve ever been. We live in a polarized world that’s disturbingly divisive. There are value-driven differences that are hard to bridge. Yet, on the other hand, seeing democracy in action is awesome.
New Hampshire is unique because there’s an expectation that candidates really get to know voters on a grassroots level. That means I’ve been knocking on doors and sitting down with people for one-on-one conversations. You get to know the lives of everyday Americans. It gives you the chance to see how you can make things a little better for a lot of people. That’s what public service is all about.
The country is fragile. But with strong leadership that’s focused on unity and common interests we can help the country move forward to address the challenges facing the nation, whether it’s inflation or energy prices, the threat of China, or an insecure border. Economic growth, continued innovation, creating new industries, and reducing the inflation tax will help restore the confidence of American consumers and improve the lives of most citizens.
Your campaign focuses on a business-minded approach to policies. What does that approach entail?
I think there’s something to be said for the private-sector experience. Accountability, transparency, and exposure to competitive forces lead to better decision-making. One top concern for voters in New Hampshire is education. My business approach to education centers around those three areas: transparency, accountability, and exposure to competition—or in the case of education, choice.
I want transparency in the classrooms; in other words, I want to know what instructors will be teaching my children. I want accountability—what did you teach my children, how was it taught, did you make any changes?
Finally, I want choice. If I don’t like what is being taught or how it’s taught, I want the option to go elsewhere. Competition and choice ultimately help all boats rise by having the tide rise. I will follow my “transparency-accountability-competition” framework with every issue.
The last tidbit I would add is incentives: it’s critical we understand who is motivated to do what. If the incentives line up with the objectives, there is no stopping what can be achieved.
Featured Photo Courtesy of ISRI. Final Photo Courtesy of Vikram Mansharamani for NH. All Other Photos Courtesy of ISRI.