Booms & Busts, what’s your community coming out of or headed into?

Being around oil and mining booms for 3 generations, the assumption that those are all short-lived (some go on for hundreds of years like the Potosi Mine in Bolivia that’s been a treasure trove for a millenia or more) and that ONLY those create or kill booms and busts.

When you look at economic history harder than reporters and pundits, let alone “the man on the street”, you see everything goes through booms and busts.

In the old days we often called it “the business cycle” as there is a natural and ancient flow to it, but the 24-hour newscycle of empty-headed twits

Booms in irrigated farming? Sound dull? Tell that to the earliest civilizations in Sumeria, Egypt, Babylonia, Mycenae Greece, Rome, Carthage, Indus River Valley/Mohenjo Daro…or to grain farmers going through it the past few years in the American farmlands. Farmers expand their tilled land, buy more equipment now or slaves and oxen then, invest in granaries, flour mills, grain elevators, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fences, have more kids and hire more help, build new houses, vote for new public buildings in their town that show a bet on the future like schools, and take on what’s often a reckless level of debt to accomplish it that looked quite manageable and common at the time. It happens endlessly and that boom and bust cycle has been consolidating farms and ranches into bigger landholdings relying on external investment capital for at least 4 millenia, but it’s still a surprise in the news casts.

Mining booms go back to before the Bronze Age as flint and obsidian deposits are fairly uncommon and far more useful than just any local rocks. Like any physical substance (including top soil, gravel, good clays, fresh water, etc.) there’s a finite amount at any one place and depending on your technology (i.e. a rock held in your hand and a basket to carry the ores out in or a sophisticated explosive charge backed up by enormous ore handling trucks) you can only remove some percentage of what’s there. Often the richest, easiest material is the most accessible and when that’s exhausted, like the best known placer gold mining booms where a shallow metal pan manually sifting out gold dust is viable , the bust often begins unless enough capital investment in specialized equipment and hired crews can keep going. In a way it’s like declaring a bunch of Christmas shoppers descending on the tiny display of the year’s “must have” toy as the hopefully permanent boom and the sudden emptying of the store after Christmas as an unforeseen bust likely to kill the store.

Oil booms are often mistaken for 19th century gold rush booms by idiot reporters and economists but in reality last longer than most companies and stocks. Some fields are still producing 100-150 years later and like mines, old oil fields can have as much as 85% of the oil left behind waiting for bigger investment, i.e. a $10 million cost per well vs. a $20,000 cost per well, new technologies like Big Data’s 3-dimensional modeling of unseeable geology to find smaller pockets of oil. The shale oil and gas booms around the world are “game-changes” like all of the past oil and gas discoveries that amounted to much have been, just like the booms from copper, iron ore, uranium, gold, silver, rubber trees, hardwood lumber, diamonds, arable fertile farmland that didn’t require irrigation, etc..

The most destructive booms and busts are the ones built on meager assets and endless speculative hyperbole, in other words the financial and commodities markets. Surprisingly detached from reality (most chidren’s games are more based in the real environment) and endlessly distorted by “information” (guesses, lies, estimates, averages, fantasies, convenient results, hidden assumptions, etc.), the unsustainable booms crash quickly as they truly are a house of cards with the bust lasting until in theory the people who bring real money into the financial services’ casinos’ game tables have earned some more or in practice when a new boom or bubble can be concocted to help the insiders recapture their losses and lure new money in.

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