Yet another of those perfect days: looking after grandkids, swimming, basking in the sun, and reading. I finally finished Steven Pinker’s new book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence has Declined.
Here is what he writes of mining and violence:
The vulnerability to civil war of countries in which the control of the government is a winner-take-all jackpot is multiplied when the government controls windfalls like oil, gold, diamonds, and strategic minerals. Far from being a blessing, these bonanzas create the so-called resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty and fool’s gold. Countries with an abundance of nonrenewable, easily monopolized resources have slower economic growth, crappier governments, and more violence. As the Venezuelan politician Jaun Perez Alfonzo put it, “oil is the devil’s excrement.” A country can be accursed by these resources because they concentrate power and wealth in the hands of whoever monopolizes them, typically a governing elite but sometimes a regional warlord. The leader becomes obsessed with fending off rivals for his cash cow and has no incentive to foster the networks of commerce that enrich a society and knit it together in reciprocal obligations. Collier, together with the economist Dambisa Moyo and their policy analysts has called attention to a related paradox. Foreign aid, so beloved of crusading celebrities, can be another poisoned chalice, because it can enrich and empower the leaders through whom it is funnelled rather than building a sustainable economic infrastructure. Expensive contraband like coca, opium, and diamonds is third curse, because it opens a niche for cutthroat politicians or warlords to secure the illegal enclaves and distribution centers.
This magnificent prose and penetrating analysis goes through nearly 700 pages. During that time we are enlightened as to the causes of the decline of violence, which in brief are:
- The Leviathan, namely the rise of governments able to control the criminal elements in society.
- Commerce, and the attendant benefits of the non-zero-sum game of trade,
- Feminization and the incorporation of the gentler aspects of female virtues and needs into the fabric of society.
- Expanding circles of understanding and knowledge and the reduction in hatred and tribalism attendant on meeting people of other colors, religions, and ways of life.
- Reason and the rise of logic in free discussion, critique, and debate. (Not excluding blogs.)
This is a magnificent book and worthy of reading by all who would seek to understand the modern condition and the forces that have given rise to a better life and a way to advance even more the benefits of modern society.
He gives no answers to the all-consuming issues of where and when mines may be opened, operated, or closed. Yet application of the ideas he explores will, I suspect, give us all room and time to reflect of the development of mines, the benefits that accrue in well-governed countries, and the curses that follow in ill-governed places.
His idea that mining per se is not enough but should be accompanied by value-adding industries is sound. If only those places that mine could also establish the industries that add value to the mined product, all would benefit. Take a look at Iowa: they farm and add value to farmed products by making corn oil, cereals, ethanol, and growing pigs and feeding chickens. And their wealth is such that my grandkids are better provided for by what is in essence a socialistic society of great wealth than even the best places in Canada could afford.
Thus we advocate more industry in Africa. For example, why not make catalytic converters in Bafokeng and hence add to the wealth of the platinum mines, rather than export raw platinum dust to China? This would certianly be better than expropriating the mines and driving all into the dust of warlord possession.
Thus could mining be a generator of wealth and social progress like Iowa and not be simply a source of funds for warlords and a governing elite of whatever color happens to win the spoils?