A well written article on the supply situation of lithium can be found at the Daily Kos. There is no point in my adding to it except to say that I second the motion. The USA needs to get serious about forging relationships fostering stable lithium supplies.

Update:  Journalists have only now “uncovered” a 2007 USGS report on the mineral resources of Afganistan.  Prospecting for minerals in Afganistan- there is a plum job for a westerner. Imagine doing anything there? Not least of which, poking around in the countryside attracting IED’s and snipers. Even better, imagine trying to work a deal with the authorities (whatever that means) to obtain mineral rights?  I’ll bet the South Africans are working a deal this very moment. 

When is comes to minerals, China has been building relationships in Africa for a while now. I get the sense that China is centrally focused on manufacturing oriented activity rather than just running finance games of chance. China hasn’t forgotten that infrastructure is built upon access to natural resources and is quietly stitching itself into the supply side of the market. America, with its great hordes of MBA’s and strutting bankers, seems to have an unhealthy fetish for financial gymnastics and celebrity.

American CEO’s of public corporations will tell you that they have a fiduciary responsibilty to maximize shareholder value. Based on the way the rules are written, they are right. The corporate masters of the western world will be replaced if they lose sight of this fact. After all, Rome could have been built in a quarter if they had the right consultants and financing, couldn’t it?

This structural shortsightedness predisposes them to focus on financial instrumentalities that operate on the same short time interval as they do.  You can’t build a factory, grow the business, and earn profit over one or a few quarters. But you can put monies into accounts which promise a return on a quarterly basis beginning the day of the transfer. What if that fiduciary argument could be put to rest? What if a CEO didn’t have to emulate Jack Welch?

The USA needs new thinking on how to operate manufacturing businesses profitably within its borders in a manner that they are not so easily subject to obsolescence by competing foreign operations with a lower tax base and lower labor overhead. Existing theories of city planning, zoning, and suburbia must be reconsidered. 

In a previous posting I recalled the experience of walking through the back streets of Bangkok, Thailand. There I saw endless streets lined with shops that served both a mercantile and residential function. The shopkeepers lived in their shops. They could consolidate their assets and labor to serve the need for shelter and for making their living.

American workers have little opportunity to consolidate their assets in this manner. Their wages must cover rent or a mortgage to provide shelter which cannot be put to work. This severely limits entrepreneurial options, rendering the worker subject to the vagaries of  employment by others. If a US worker loses his/her job, they have little in the way of self-help options for survival because of municipal zoning. If one wanted to sell custom furniture or repair cars, they would have to find a properly zoned space. But this takes resources up front along with licenses, tax ID #’s, insurance, etc., and most US workers are poorly prepared for this eventuality.

Lower pay might be tolerable in the USA if employees could have a lower cost of living. One way to do that is to offer company owned housing for employees. Interest payments on a mortgage or residential rents are a large part of an employees lifetime expenses. If an employee had the option of living in housing provided by his/her employer at a reduced interest rate, part of the savings in living costs would be captured by the company in a correspondingly reduced payroll or a rent arrangement. I get the feeling that large groups of hourly workers out there would give this a try if it were available.

This is not part of the current standard model of US business or of US lifestyle. “Company store” models have been used in the past with less than happy results. But it strikes me that if you want to build a viable textile mill or zinc smelter in the US, for example, a factory with a company dormatory will be needed to make the thing fly.

The reindustrialization of the USA will need this kind of change in lifestyle to bring back low and medium skill industrial jobs. High labor overhead is not stable in a world of low labor and tax rates abroad. The metrics of the American Dream have to be recalibrated to account for competition and the loss of the frontier with its endless resources and space.  

What is most worrisome about the current political and economic epoch is the fragmentation of the middle class. Societies become unstable when large swaths of the the middle class become unemployed and begin to adopt ultra-nationalist sentiments. The Tea Party movement is the result of elements of fascist thinking entering into the dialog. Chomsky has pointed out some parallels found earlier in the 20th century. The current extent and intensity of the certitude of patriotic ideals has been seen before in recent history and with terrible effect. Fascist thinking requires pushback from the center of the bell curve or the xenophobic dread that it spreads may become uncontrollable.

Entrenched maladaptive behaviors displayed by US businesses and government are a real barrier to stability over the long term. We in the USA assert superiority in many areas of activity, but show very little ability to actually adapt to the dynamics of global politics. Mindless adherence to threadbare nationalistic doctrine and tired notions of “greatness'” will not get us out of economic trouble. But an imaginative and adaptive marketplace can help.

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