For those who have followed all this, I would like to say:

(a) I’m sorry for subjecting you to it — I just admired Jim Whyte’s pluck, wit and obvious good will, even though I agree with those of you who felt he was over-reacting to a “straw man.” The world needs more Jim Whytes, even if this particular space does not need further discourse on mining.

(b) Yes, we need metal. We appreciate metal. Many of us even suck zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold. Mining, practiced responsibly, is a very good thing.

And on that note I would like to use my executive privilege to give the last word to Russell Turpin, chief technology officer of an Austin, Texas, Internet start-up, who writes:

“Hank Gillette says ‘without government intervention many mining companies would do their mining with a total disregard for the environment.’ Your well-spoken mine supporter, Jim Whyte responds: ‘Maybe, maybe not — can he honestly make that kind of broad-brush statement about people that dig up resources? How many of them does he know?’

“And I say that Hank Gillette is right, for an objective economic reason. Cleaning up is a cost, and the cheapest way to deal with the mess from an industrial process is to leave it for others to suffer. Any time an industry can gain advantage through externality — a cost that others must bear — it will. The morals of those in the industry are inadequate to prevent this. The businesses that refuse to take advantage of the externality will suffer a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis those that do. As the industry evolves, the businesses that initially failed to take advantage of the externality due to management’s moral qualms will either change their management or lose their market share. Either way, the industry as a whole will behave as Hank Gillette predicts, running over the moral objections even of its own former leaders.

“This has happened time and time again. We cannot hope that an industry will self-regulate with regard to advantageous externalities. The ethics of individual business people will NOT stop telemarketers from interrupting your dinner, hog farms from destroying streams, refineries from polluting the air, or mining companies from leaving big pits in the ground. The industry will evolve as economic law dictates, selecting for its leaders individuals with morals that are ‘efficient’ for the existing rules of the game. The only thing that stops industries from imposing their costs on others are rules from outside the industry that say ‘you don’t have any right to interrupt people at dinner, to pollute our water and air, or to leave big pits in national forests.’

“Don’t get me wrong: I am 100% for marketing, hog farms, refineries, and mining companies. Heck, I own stock in some of these. But I also believe that businesses should bear the full cost of what they do, and that law is required to make sure this happens. Good ground rules are the only way to make sure that business produces the right goods and service, that is, those whose costs are justified by their benefit.”

Which is why George W. Bush’s rotten environmental record in Texas, or John McCain’s zero rating from the Natural Resources Defense Council (which is what started this thread in the first place), are worth noting.

 

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