Mining in Mongolia, The Horror Story

'Mine-golia': Across the steppes, new wealth emerges

I saw this story on CNN this morning. Meant to be a “feel good” piece about wealth being discovered in a poor nation of Mongolia. There are a few things about it that are spun as positive but IF one takes the long view at it, the whole thing is more of a curse then a blessing. Those of us from Northern Ohio can relate.

Mongolia past and present:
If you are claiming to make life better for a people, it is important to know their status now as well and have an agreement on what “better” mans. Mongolia is a predominantly nomadic herding and farming culture. It has been this way since at least its founding by Genghis Khan in the 1200’s. Their per capita GDP is $4000 (compared to the US $47,000). They are a sustainable agricultural society. What individuals don’t supply for themselves they get from bartering. That is a brief economic overview. Culturally they are predominantly Buddhist and atheist. (Thank God. We are not pissing off another Islamic culture again. The two groups mentioned are the most peaceful groups in the world). As in any agricultural society, every parent is a “stay at home” parent. Use of Antidepressants and suicide is unheard of in the outlying regions away from the developed cities. Due to an industrial movement in the 1990’s they are literate and educated.

Economic impact:

There are some key phrases that stick out in this short article. The first big zinger is “Boost the average earnings of Mongolia by 60%.” I am not certain if they mean of the country or the people. But lets us say they mean they are going to boost the average earnings Mongolians. Good thing, right? It is as long as you are one of those select few that get hired by the mining company. But even then, how do you measure. If your average wage is $0 cause you barter for everything, how do you gage that 60%? Say that each of them make $1 a week equivalent and now they will get $1.60?

Supply and Demand:
Let us just take the price of goat’s milk for the example, a staple to the Mongolian diet it would be safe to assume. Now if a goat herder is hired as a miner, a few things happen to supply and demand. First, supply of goat’s milk reduces causing an increase in cost. But he now no longer supplies himself and adds to the demand. The increase in demand also edges the price higher. It doesn’t matter to him, he can afford to pay it. However, the wheat farmer he used to trade with is now forced to find a way to grow more wheat and find another trading partner.

Money issues:
The herder turned miner goes off to get his paycheck every week, he is paid in money. This is a much preferred method of accepting payment as it can represent wheat, corn, milk, smith work, and/ or livestock. A wheat farmer needs to find a goat herder that actually needs wheat in order to make the trade. As time goes on, many of the producers will require money for purchases to be made. The minor will have no problem paying for stuff with is 60% increased wages. But a wheat farmer who has never had to earn money has to now. So he sells his wheat at the market. Now everybody is hooked on the monetary system. (This makes it easier to tax.) The traditional wage earners basically has to work twice. Farming then marketing. And then will need to grow more to meet the demand and produce the amount of income to buy the stuff they need. Everybody has stopped working for the one thing they all have in common, the one thing that kept them all equal in the past, "time".

Culturally speaking:

That is economically. How about culturally? For the family of the herder turned miner you have a major shift. Now instead of having both parents stay at home passing on the family values and traditions, dad will have to leave to go to work most of the child’s life. This was a nomadic family that turned into a stationary one. Children instead of having self value and awareness as was the result of being part of a working farm or caravan, will find themselves lost, anxious at the loss of direction from their parent, and bored.

Besides the lands that were taken by the mining operation, lands that were free to roam for hundreds of years, permanent housing developments and western style market places will require permanent lands. Lands used to be free for all to use are off limits and come with a cost.. Of course as cost rise and the ability to even support one on a miner's salary come to pass, mother too will have to go off to the workforce. Maybe she will work at one of the new malls. With this “progress” this whole culture is changing into something it never was.

Now from the guy who remains a farmer point of view, life got much harder. He has to find a way to harvest more crops to bring to market. The cost of things went up. Why did theh go up, because "the price of things are set at the highest price consumers are willing and able to pay for them." With people well financed by the mining wages, they can pay more for things. He will need either more land (which cost more) or crops that produce a better yield (that they can get by buying into the genetically enhanced market.) This will mean less time for family and leisure and passing on of cultural values. Kids will grow up valuing that which the miner's children have.

A terminal proposition:

All of this is said to only have a life expectancy of 50 years. Two or three generations down the road, the well will dry up. The traditional way of living and existing will have been forgotten. Children will not be able to conceive of actually processing their own food or water. They will have lost what it meant to be self sustaining. For all the freedom they were promised, they were enslaved to the mining mentality and the monetary culture. In 50 yrs when the slave drivers drop the chains and leave them, they will be unequipped to handle themselves on their own. Even one minor was quoted as saying, "We think we can work at the mine and take care of our herds. My three children will get a chance to go to school and have a better education," But what happens when that education cost 3 years wages, would he still do it. What happens when he finds himself in debt for it and the mind dries up? A half of a century is just long enough to forgeth who you are and where you came from.

Creating of western hating monsters.

In the mean time this “nomadic society” will have lands taken from them that are now off limits. Men holding western riffles guarding places with western architecture will stand guard over these lands that were free for hundreds of years. More land will be developed to house the now stationary minors. They will throw up McDonald’s, McMansions, and a Wal-mart on even more previously “unowned” land. You can already hear the frustration in the comment of the one herder they interviewed who was quoted as saying, Says one nomadic herder: "At the moment it's impossible to graze our herd near the mine. Officials might say it is only 10-kilometer limit, but because of the traffic and dust you don't see any herds within 20 or 30 kilometers." Who do you think the less advantaged are going to blame when bad weather brings less productive yields? These are Buddhist, but what happens if some of them grow angry and start blaming the invasion of western capitalism for their troubles. Would they really be all that wrong? (On a side note we found the world’s largest deposit of lithium in Afghanistan while looking for Bin Laden.) Some will get jobs, others with get handicapped by it. Will we deem then “terrorist” and talk about them as less then humans.

From experience:

In the Cleveland area where I am from this story played out at the beginning of the 1900’s. My home was a fishing port and an agricultural center. Even in the 40’s and 50’s the majority of the surrounding area was supported by its self sustaining roots. Then in came the auto and steel industry promising big and quick money to anybody who would come work. People migrated into this previously unknown speck of an area from all over the world. They formed little communities of people like themselves and different then the natives of the area. They were know as “Little Italy”, “Slovak village”, Latin, and African American sections of town. They came and started buying up land, forcing up demand, and bringing temporary prosperity to the area. There was much money to go around and nobody thought anything of it. They started rejecting and polluting the life giving source of Lake Erie. Many of them had never grown up with such a resource or understood how to care for it., let alone its importance. So the culture turned into one that treated it like a toilet or at best and “extra” that we could live without. Then one day industry found this gift from our government called “free trade agreements” and hundreds of willing cultures to exploit. So those industries left to places like Mexico and China. The children of the children of the children of the farmers and fishermen of the early 1900’s had no clue how to self sustain. Dear god what had we done to the lake?! The Cuyahoga river, once flush with fish, had caught on fire and we didn’t see that as a sign. By way of the “good wages” brought by the industry our houses, colleges, food, and booze had grown to cost too much and we had no way to pay for them now that we had been abandoned. Worse, the “walleye capital of the world” had since banned commercial fishing. So you couldn’t even get a locally caught walleye at a restaurant. If it weren’t for a friend of mine, perch fishing would have went the same way in order to honor the likes of Bass Pro Shop. Our century old sustainable industry and we “banned” it because some sports fishermen wanted to blame their poor skills and the lack of fish in the polluted lake on the industry.

So it is not with sheer speculation that I make these suggested possibilities for Mongolia. I have read and experienced the history of my own town and it wasn’t much different.

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