Lithium

Lithium Mining, Formulaic Reporting, and The Washington Post

Missing the fact that governments, not mining companies, are the real villains

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LithiumMiningKseniyaRagozinaDreamtimes
Kseniya Ragozina/Dreamtimes

First, let's agree that governments around the world regularly screw indigenous peoples. The most frequent governmental screwing occurs when authorities take their land on the grounds that it has not been not properly registered and titled. Additionally, except for the United States, nearly every other government claims to own all mineral rights within its territory. Consequently, royalties from mining concessions awarded by governments go to, yes, the governments. The upshot is that indigenous communities get screwed again when they have to endure the downsides of mining that takes place where they live while receiving none of the benefits that royalties would provide since those monies are diverted into government agencies headquartered far away.

Why am I going on about this? Because The Washington Post could have usefully made these observations in its story, "Tossed Aside in the 'White Gold' Rush: Indigenous people are left poor as tech world takes lithium from under their feet." The article details how various mining companies are beginning to exploit lithium deposits in Argentina's far northwestern province of Jujuy. The indigenous folks who dwell and herd llamas and goats in those remote Andean valleys happen to live next to giant salt flats that contain millions of tons of lithium. Lithium, of course, is the main element in the batteries that supply electricity to our mobile phones, computers, and electric cars.

The main complaint of the article is that besides new relatively high paying jobs and some minor financial assistance with community projects, the international mining companies that are making millions mining lithium are not sharing much of the proceeds with local communities. Basically, The Post casts the mining companies and the high tech companies that use Argentinian lithium in their products as the villains. Certainly, some of the local Atacama people are pissed off because they feel insufficiently consulted and rewarded. And that's fine. But the real villains are the national and provincial governments that take the royalties and taxes and then do not use them to provide adequate services to their citizens who live in the region.

In a single off-hand observation, The Post reporters do note, "The Atacamas' ability to share in the lithium profits is compromised by complex mineral rights — in Argentina, the provincial government owns them." Well, yes. They also observe that Jujuy, the province in which the lithium salt flats are located, has "started formalizing land titles for indigenous communities in 2003, making it one of the first provinces to do so." This form of communal property right empowers village leaders to negotiate and sign contracts on behalf of all of the members of their communities. If local leaders make a mistake or are themselves corrupt, then the whole community suffers.

Under Argentinian law mineral rights belong to the country's provinces which "cannot impose royalties exceeding 3 percent of the mine mouth value of the extracted minerals." In addition, the central government imposes a 35 percent corporate income tax and an export tax of 5 to 10 percent on profits derived from the sale of minerals. The provincial and central governments could use those monies to provide services to the communities where the mining is taking place. [For comparison, hardrock royalty rates for leases on state-owned lands in the western U.S. range from 1.25 percent (Arizona) to 10 percent (California) of the gross value of the minerals mined.]

A local group near the salt flats hired a lawyer Jorge Iglesias to oppose the mining. As The Post reports, Iglesias went to "court in 2014 to contest the government's approval of the lithium mines, claiming 'irreparable irregularities' in the approval process and arguing the local communities were not properly notified about the process. The court dismissed the lawsuit last year." The Post then quotes Iglesias: "The mining never should have been approved. We think they are taking advantage of the ignorance of the indigenous people on this subject." The "they"—the real villains—who took advantage of the locals certainly include Argentinian government officials eager to obtain royalties and taxes for their preferred programs.

Of course, corporations can and do misbehave, but it would have been more useful for The Post to report on the much larger problem that enables the exploitation and abuse of indigenous communities around the world: a lack of secure private property rights.

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  1. hired a lawyer Jorge Iglesias to oppose the mining

    I guess Julio and Enrique just don’t care enough about the environments and couldn’t be bothered…

    1. They are too busy drilling blondes, brunettes and the occasional redhead to bother much.

      1. Down by the schoolyard?

        1. +1 Mama pajama

  2. Ron, you cannot argue that government is bad when some capitalist pig is out there stealing peoples’ wealth and destroying the environment for something that is in demand. The environment can never recover from a huge whole and some sifters.

    Lithium is clearly just code for white privilege.

    1. I thought Lithium was…

      I like it, I’m not gonna crack
      I miss you, I’m not gonna crack
      I love you, I’m not gonna crack
      I killed you, I’m not gonna crack

  3. I’m not sad, and just maybe, I’m to blame for all I’ve heard…

  4. “First, let’s agree that governments around the world regularly screw indigenous peoples.”

    FIFY, Ron.

    1. But at least it’s something we do together.

    2. Hey, we gave them the shaft, what else do you want?

  5. The indigenous want to be left alone.
    The indigenous want “services”.

    Which is it? Because putting these two things together never seems to end well.

    1. I just want to be left alone. Can we get that? Nope, no special snowflake status.

      1. But you’re cisnormative patriarchal shitlord, you are the cause of all the world’s problems. I mean you might be cowering in your bed nursing a hangover, but you’re still the reason that Venezuela is falling apart.

  6. The mining never should have been approved. We think they are taking advantage of the ignorance of the indigenous people on this subject.

    This is the beginning, middle and end of the argument: “Leave it in the ground.” The stuff about indigenous peoples is just smoke and mirrors.

    Luddite’s veto. And you sure as shit don’t have to go all the way to Argentina to hear it.

    1. “Why are cell phone batteries so darn expensive!”

      1. Why are cell phone environmentally conscious electric car batteries so darn expensive!

    2. I’d like to hear the logical argument for leaving ‘it’ in the ground. Does said substance have some magical world balancing property that necessitates it being left in ground?

      “In a single off-hand observation, The Post reporters do note, “The Atacamas’ ability to share in the lithium profits is compromised by complex mineral rights ? in Argentina, the provincial government owns them.”

      Of course, that makes sense as the point of Ron’s article. It’s the government screwing people over, not the corporations who are just happy to take advantage of the rules government has made.

      “Of course, corporations can and do misbehave”

      Typically with a lot of help from government.

    3. I read that more charitably as this corrupt agreement should never have been approved.

      If the government and companies cannot offer sufficient inducement to the local tribes who “should” own the mineral rights, then leaving it in the ground is exactly the right answer.

  7. If local leaders make a mistake or are themselves corrupt, then the whole community suffers.

    Good thing that never, ever happens. Leaders always want what’s best for the people who are blessed to follow them!

  8. Just wait until they start dilithium mining. The only bargaining chip is that those minors always need women.

    1. Minors usually do not know what to do with women.

      1. Also, child labor laws, they need those in Argentina. That way they can’t compete with we libertarians and our orphan slaves. Gotta get some propaganda out to the Atacamas. Where’s our Minister of Truth, why isn’t he on this already?

        1. Also, child labor laws

          If the minors are only getting women they won’t have to worry about labor.

      2. It’s interesting you say that, because I wrote miners and then changed it to minors thinking somehow that made it better. I guess in a way, it did.

      3. No but I was eager to learn.

    2. It gets even worse when they start refining trilithium out of it.

    3. Pfft. Trilithium’s where it’s at.

        1. Don’t fret, we’ve decided that the next step will be to skip to Quintlithium, as Quadlithium was too predictable.

          1. God forbid they rely on a predictable source of power.

    4. Wait until they need to start digging up Beryllium spheres, that’s when the natives get really nasty.

    5. What about Unobtanium?

      1. Then you just nuke the site from orbit and have robots mine the crater.

  9. Before science and tech journalists go to sleep, they check under the bed for Ron Bailey.

  10. Minors usually do not know what to do with women.

    Women go into teaching for a reason.

  11. First, let’s agree that governments around the world regularly screw indigenous peoples.

    How, by giving them casino licenses?

    I wish I could get a casino license. I can’t, I tried. Do you know how much money I’d be making right now if I could get myself a sweet-ass, precious casino license?

  12. “The “they” – the real villains – who took advantage of the locals certainly include Argentinian government officials eager to obtain royalties and taxes for their preferred programs.”

    Prediction:
    A new lawsuit will be brought naming the company and people in funny costumes will end up in the courthouse.

  13. ” But the real villains are the national and provincial governments that take the royalties and taxes and then do not use them to provide adequate services to their citizens who live in the region.”

    No, the real villains are the national and provincial governments that take the royalties and taxes at all.

    Full.
    Fucking
    Stop

    It would not matter if they even tried to ” provide adequate services to their citizens” much less succeeded. By claiming that which is not theirs they are already exceeding their necessary function.

    Does anyone have any evidence that Sullum is a libertarian, because I’m not really seeing any.

      1. Well, shit. Sorry Sullum.

        Wouldn’t have even bothered knowing it was Bailey…

  14. The provincial and central governments could use those monies to provide services to the communities where the mining is taking place.

    Or they could just fuck off.

  15. Certainly, some of the local Atacama people are pissed off because they feel insufficiently consulted and rewarded.

    I’d suspect the ones getting pissed off don’t have enough lithium in their system and consequently aren’t being harmed by the lithium mining. Perversely, the ones harmed by the lithium mining have enough lithium in their system that they’re apathetic about it.

  16. I remember trying to figure out some way to enshrine communal property rights into law; specifically, how could Indian tribes have contested property theft by the white invaders after 1492?

    The more I wrestled with it, the more I came to the conclusion that it is impossible. Communal means tragedy of the commons, political bickering, corruption, and every other evil that comes with collectivism.

    Then I read of Indian tribes making a fortune off casinos and kicking out Indians who disagreed with their decisions — declaring them not real Indians, but only adopted, or only 3/8, or other such shenanigans. It confirmed everything I’d thought of.

    Individual rights are the only rights worth anything. Fuck collectivism, statism, socialism, whatever you call it to to hide its true nature.

    1. The real theft didn’t happen until well after 1492. The early settlers set up camp where there was plenty of land vacated by Indians who died of various plagues.

      I think 1800s is where it got messy in the US. I suppose the Spaniards got an earlier start in South America.

      1. The first English settlers did find some empty land, but also plenty of occupied land right from the beginning. They just didn’t recognize it as occupied because the Indians didn’t mark it with fences and boundaries and borders.

        Not all Indian land was communal, but a lot was, and they had some sort of mixed property too,w here the tribe “owned” an area and split it up among members. I don’t know much about all this, only that communal land has always been a disaster.

    2. The Algonquins on the east coast of North America actually did have private property (at least, each family had its own private lands, which were officially held by the matriarch). The English colonists, accustomed to enclosure, didn’t realize this because the Indians didn’t build fences to separate their properties – they didn’t need to, because they didn’t have domestic animals to keep out of each others’ fields.

      1. And there were enough wolves that the whitetail rat deer infestation didn’t pose as great a hazard to their crops.

        1. Whitetail deer were welcome to try to get into Indian crops, because Indians found them delicious.

          1. less of a pests-eating-crops than a falling-for-the-bait situation.

  17. I wonder if this mining is a market response to the push to get rid of the purely petroleum powered transportation in lieu of electric / electric-hybrid vehicles?

    If so, it is always entertaining to see greenies’ get smacked around by market forces and unintended consequences.

    1. The king of crony capitalism says “yes”

      “The resulting Barron’s story argued that Tesla’s stock price was overvalued, because the lithium-ion cells used to power Tesla’s vehicles cost a great deal.”
      http://www.greencarreports.com…..t-may-cost

    2. nothing funnier than seeing a super progressive drive a hybrid with some dumb bumper sticker about the environment.

      1. I’ve probably got more pet peeves than anyone in the world. One of the biggest ones is Prius drivers who think they’re “green.” Listen, Mr. Pious-owner, you put gas in your car just like I do. You just get better mileage. Does that make you “green” and me a polluter?

        And OBTW, you plug-in electric car owners are NOT zero-emission. You’re probably driving your car with natural gas or coal.

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