The laws of economics are not as immutable and transcendent as those of Nature (they are, after all, human “laws”); but sometimes they have an ironic sensibility. Take, for example, coal and coal mining.
A piece I heard on NPR this morning, by reporter Rob Schmitz:
The streets of Dalianhe, in China’s frigid northeast province of Heilongjiang, are lined with black snow. The town is home to one of China’s largest open-pit coal mines. Workers drive through its front gate into a massive gorge with cliffs the color of ink — a canyon of coal. Thousands of feet below, it’s silent but for the drip of melting snow.
It wasn’t always this way. Thousands used to work inside this mine on the northern fringe of China’s rust belt. It was established in 1960 at the height of Mao’s China, when the Communist Party considered this region a worker’s paradise. Coal mines and steel mills here employed millions.
Here’s the link to the whole piece:
Your thinking what I thought—this could be a story about the same dilemma for America coal miners (Maybe this is what Trump and Xi are going to discuss at Mar a Lago).
Coal mining is a dirty and dangerous business anywhere. China’s coal mines kill a reported six thousand miners every year (that’s the “reported” ones; this is China remember, and this is “killed,” not those killed by diseases). Doesn’t matter whether you mine in Communist China or Capitalist America—the “laws” apply. Coal mining kills, and now it is coal mining that is being killed.
Coal is dirty energy and natural gas and alternative energy are murdering it. Also, pit mining uses less labor. “Clean coal” is a joke and so is Trump’s claim that he is brining back those coal mining jobs so those guys can get back to getting “black lung” disease. Like China there are no strong unions to lobby for coal mining. Like China there is pressure from environmental concerns. Miners are “old” energy and miners are going to get screwed in both places because their countries offer no real safety net. Hey, it’s that good ole neo-liberal economics—markets, competition, private ownership, share prices—all that good stuff. Some people end up with yachts, some with food stamps (until they get rid of those so those other people can get bigger yachts).
Coal miners haven’t seen the handwriting on the wall because they have been too long blasting that wall to find new seams of coal—it’s game over. But they want the game to go on and they will often back the wrong politics that will sell them false hopes wrapped in junk ideology, macho imagery and trickle-down economics. Neither country is going to give them a guaranteed income to see their generation and their “industry” finish out its history with some bit of dignity and help their progeny to move on to better, safer jobs from their desecrated valleys and mountains.
One thing is for sure: their self-serving autocrat leaders—Trump and Xi—don’t give a rat’s ass for their welfare or future because whatever bullshit the “laws” of political success might dictate, the laws of economics and Nature are the laws they cannot repeal repudiate.