Gold Is the Harbinger of Scarcity

The Left in the developed world knows what it wants. Conservatives don’t know what they want so much as they know what they don’t like, which is whatever the Left wants. So, there is a tendency, in the absence of a coherent world view of where we came from and the whys and wherefores of social customs, for conservatives to reflexively adopt the opposite view of the Left on any and all subjects.

Taking other people’s stuff by force of the state, which is socialism, was discredited by the collapse of communism in 1991 and more recently the implosion of Venezuela. So, the Left needed another organising principle and settled upon global warming. Global warming allows the Left to paint the future as a dystopian one of shortages and great suffering. Thus we are told that we will have to give up meat, live mostly on beans with the occasional insect for animal protein.

You may laugh and say that is not going to happen, but the Left has been maligning a trace gas in the atmosphere at only a little above survival levels, for over 30 years. If society can accept one fairy story it will accept any number of them. In fact some people are unsure of things they can see with their own eyes, something as simple as there being only two genders.  

The Left thinks ahead, and plots and plans. Conservatives think that tomorrow is going to be much like today, only better because new technology not yet dreamt of will make things cheaper. Conservatives also believe that when the price of something increases, production rises so that the price falls back to where it started from. Generally that view has been correct and the doomsayers starting with the Club of Rome in 1972 have been false prophets.

But there is one major commodity in which the doomsayers have been right, as shown by the graph following of the inflation-adjusted gold price since 1990 (blue line) and world gold production (red line):

In current day dollars the gold price was $375 in the first quarter of 2001. Eighteen years later it is $1,475 which is 393% higher. According to the conservative theory of a wonderful world of ever-increasing awesomeness, that can’t happen. There has been plenty of time for production to respond to the market’s price signal and gold production has increased 38% over the same time interval. It hasn’t been enough. Nevertheless, with the price up near 400% the gold mining companies should be making money hand over fist. But that is not happening either.

It is all explained by grade. Most of the high grade, shallow, easy-digging gold dirt has been mined now and gold mine grades continue to decline. For example the average grade of South African gold mines has declined from approximately 12 grams per ton in the 1970s to approximately 3 grams per ton currently.

To put that into context for conservatives, we have an ancient social custom of wearing a gold ring to signify that we have mated for life, in the manner of geese or the like. At an average gold content of 8.5 grams, that wedding ring will take 2.8 tons of South African gold ore to make. Some surface gold operations mine ore at half that grade and might have three tons or more of overburden to move for each tonne of ore mined and processed. So some rings will take more than 20 tonnes of rock to make.

What holds for gold, in terms of grade and production, holds for all other things from the earth, eventually. The price of gold doesn’t affect many of us in our daily lives, apart from that once-in-a-lifetime purchase. The price of oil does, so what is happening there? The oil price was following the scarcity script up until 2014 when it fell out of bed thanks to a boom in fracking in a number of basins in the US. It had looked like the law of ever-increasing awesomeness and earthly bounty had re-asserted itself. A few years have passed, and the oil price is now back over $60 per barrel.

What happened over the last five years is explained in this article. In short, when the oil price fell out of bed a lot of fracking equipment was sold cheaply and the new owners were able to bid cheaply on completing wells for production. Drilling is only 15% of the cost of a tight oil well – most of the balance is the cost of the frack job. But for the oil industry to justify investment in new fracking equipment it needs an oil price of $100 per barrel. So the oil price will be somewhere in between – the article suggests $75 per barrel.

As the oil price rises, natural gas will start rising to the oil price in energy content terms as it did in the previous decade. And when oil and natural gas production decline then we will go to converting coal to liquid fuels. But let’s skip to the end which is when we have run out of economic grades of carbon from the ground and we are relying upon nuclear energy 100%. There will be solar panels but only because nuclear energy will be used to make them. All the solar panels we see now are because of cheap Chinese coal; the panels themselves don’t make power cheaply enough to manufacture anything, including more solar panels. As for wind turbines, the animal sacrifices of bats and birds to the pagan god of global warming will all be for naught.

Whether or not we have a civilisation when the fossil fuels run out depends upon how cheaply we can make power from the nuclear reactors at the time. Because we are going to need cheap power to scrape up leaves, newspapers and wheat stubble to provide the carbon to make liquid fuels, plastics and everything else. The other fuel component will be hydrogen produced by electrolysis using nuclear power.

Nothing much has been done in nuclear power reactor design for 50 years, ever since Nixon shut down the thorium liquid fuel reactor research to save money for the plutonium breeder reactor which in turn was cancelled. In an ideal world, which we conservatives aspire to, all the money being wasted on global warming and renewable energy would instead be used to get to the best possible nuclear reactor design. That also means not wasting it on trips to the Moon or Mars or any other useless rock until we have the reactor design thing sorted.

It looks like Boris Johnson has five years to do the right thing. President Trump might have a year of treading water and then he gets four years to set things to right. Neither gentleman should fear the loons who believe in global warming.

Photo credit: Stevebidmead

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare

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