Random Thoughts

The mineral wealth beneath our soils can only truly belong to us, the peoples of the world - if it is even, indeed, "ours" at all to extract, refine, and use for our own purposes. Why, then, do we issue incredibly cheap leases and rights to withdraw this wealth to corporate entities that take the "profits" involved in the process and use them to enrich their major stockholders and top level executives (who are often the same people)?

Now, I could see that if all the people on earth benefited approximately equally from this use, there would be little point in adding to the origination cost by charging these companies high fees - the costs would simply be passed along to all those using the resources. But we do not have equal access to the results of this plunder. Americans in general (and the wealthiest among them even more so) consume an inordinate proportion of these natural resources, and thus they have the most to gain by keeping the actual passed along "value" of the goods lying underground to a minimum.

I think there has in fact developed a sort of international "elite," composed of the wealthiest people in industry and governments, whose national allegiances are only as strong as it takes for them to retain their wealth against the forces of anarchy, populism and revolution. The corporations that serve their needs may ostensibly be headquartered in one country, trade their stock on some major exchange under the laws of a single government, but they are truly international in that their assets and profits are sufficiently liquid as to be immune to local economic or political conditions.

Thus the USA is being plundered for its natural resources just as much as any third world country may appear to be. Certain accomodations to the taste Americans have acquired for their small wealthinesses and their slightly democratic political institutions must be made, of course, but these are fairly easily manipulated via mass media to create an atmosphere that works well for the multinationals. The so-called benefits of "globalization" are mainly good for these intransigient, mobile, abstract organizations created to funnel wealth where it is least needed (the pockets of the wealthiest people), by promoting the liquidity of their assets and accountability.

While an actual world government might seem to benefit us here, I think that even at the scale of the larger governments we have formed the byzantine legal structures and processes merely serve to camouflage and decoy what is happening. At a global level it would be no better and probably far worse!

It is true that we all like to enjoy low cost energy (and metal supplies, etc.), in truth it costs us more if we use less than the median level. Not compelling firms to pay reasonably high prices for the inventory that we all "own" lying under the ground acts as an invisible regressive tax on all the people alive now and in the future. This is not to say these operations should not yield a profit - a profit on the risk and investment in exploration, mining and drilling technology, and the capital costs of the operations themselves. This profit, however, should be miniscule in comparison to the "value" placed on and charge them for the raw materials that belong to us all.

The result of this charge would be to drive upt he costs of certain mineral resources by a lot. This in turn would depress consumption - and this is how the formula for their cost should be determined. The longer the supply of a given resource will last, and the easier it will be over time to replace with renewable resources, the less the charge should be. The harder it is to replace the way it is used (for instance private 3 ton vehicles burning highly refined fossil fuels to move individual people around) the higher the charge should be.

The goal would be to minimize our use of this onetime capital account to the extent to which it is needed, and while we are depending on it to work as hard as we can to figure out ways to survive on our replaceable income account as much as possible. Can we really justify burnign all the oil, coal, and natural gas as fast as we possibly can (for this is the extraction indutry's goal!) so that there is no ready source of energy to support development of alternatives left for our great grandchildren?

When Dick Cheney's friends and former employers in the extraction industry gave him a multimillion dollar "retirement" package so he could play at being Vice President full time, where did this money come from? It came from minerals under our planet, brought to the surface and sold to us... millions of dollars of our money extracted, concentrated and filtered, to be funnelled into the personal asset accounts of one man who now ostensibly represents us in the executive branch of the governement. That was your money, my money, and more importantly, money belonging to millions of unborn humans in the near and distant future.


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© Huw Powell

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