Monday, June 26, 2017

Trump's Economic Plan: Hydraulic Mining

These past few weeks, I've been talking about this trip through gold country that my wife and I took at the beginning of May. It was an enlightening and educational trip aside from the fact that it was just a lot of fun. I mean, I didn't even talk about how we made sourdough pancakes roughly based on the way miners' would have eaten them (evidently pancakes were kind of a thing because sourdough was fairly portable) or any of the other food we made (all amazing!) or any of the places we ate at. Of course, I also didn't talk about the mosquitoes, which reached a horrible peak the night we stayed at Indian Grinding Rock.

And I'm still not going to talk about any of that stuff:
1. Because I don't want to talk about the mosquitoes.
2. I don't have pictures of any of the food, and I probably wouldn't remember all the things anyway.

But I do want to talk some more about hydraulic mining and how Trump wants us to return to those days.

I mentioned that we stayed a couple of nights in a miners' cabin in North Bloomfield. North Bloomfield which now has a population of 8-12 (yes, that's actually what the sign said). However, at one point, North Bloomfield had a population of something in the 2000 range and was a "thriving" mining town. I say "thriving" because, obviously, it was only thriving via illusion. So let's talk about that...

The town of North Bloomfield was settled as a mining town, which means all of the industry there revolved around gold mining. Gold mining for "the Man." Let's just be clear about this, this was not a town settled by "small business" miners working for themselves and making a living at it. This was a town run by the North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company. The miners worked for them, and the miners made shit wages. The miners made shit wages while the owners of the mining company got rich. Super rich.

And remember, this is what the area looks like more than a century later:
Of course, at the time, none of the trees in the foreground were there. Everything below the treeline in  the background was wiped out by the hydraulic mining. Remember, this is a picture I took to be "attractive;" I didn't take any of what's left down in the canyon where it's still full of scummy water and piled rocks. Most of this area will never fully recover. [How do I know? Because there are similar areas to this where the Romans did the same kind of thing to gold mine more than 2000 years ago, and that land still hasn't recovered, either.]

But jobs, right? The destruction of this land supported the jobs and livelihood of 2000 people. But, you know, the government got involved and made hydraulic mining illegal and, so, today, North Bloomfield has a population of 8-12.

By Trump logic, though, we should strike down that regulation against hydraulic mining and put those miners back to work! Put them back to work making their shit wages so that the Mining Corporation could continue to get fat and rich (like a tick) off of them. But, you know, jobs!

Now, let's look at why the state of California stepped in and shut down hydraulic mining, because it wasn't because they wanted to flex some government muscles and put people out of work.
A view across some of the gravel piles and sparse vegetation on the edge of the "pit."

All of this hydraulic mining was happening up in the mountains, and it used a lot of water. "A lot of water" is an understatement. I'm talking about millions of gallons of water a day. All of the water and everything it carried with it went... down. Whole towns got covered in mud and rock and there was devastating flooding in the Sacramento valley, the most fertile area of California and, possibly, the whole United States, considering how much of the nation's food is grown here. Farms and lives were destroyed. Food that was being grown for broader consumption was destroyed so that a few corporation owners could get rich. And, you know, pay shit wages to their employees.

Some of what was coming out of the mountains even made it out into San Francisco Bay, causing even more environmental damage.

So, sure, there were 2000 people in this one town benefiting from the mining and a lot of those people had jobs related to the mining. And there were some other nearby towns that had jobs dependent upon the mining, like Lake City, which existed to upkeep one of the water reservoirs they used to power the water cannons.

But the environmental damage was extensive, to say the least, and the lives affected by the damage they mining corporation was causing was way more than 2000. Seriously, did you get the part where there were whole towns buried in mud due to the runoff from the mine? And entire seasons of crops were lost due to the flooding. So, yes, the State of California stepped in and made hydraulic mining illegal, but it wasn't without a legal fight because the corporation owners didn't want to quit. They didn't care about the damage they were causing because they were getting rich. Richer. They were getting more rich.

When hydraulic mining was made illegal, people moved away from North Bloomfield. Lake City doesn't even exist anymore. Yes, jobs were lost. Those people, though, went on to other things, because that's what you do. So, sure, jobs were lost, and I'm sure that was horrible for those people, especially the shop owners who suddenly no longer had enough business to stay open. But the net effect was tremendously for the good. Incalculably for the good.

Let's not mince words:
Trump's plan for coal, for bringing back coal mining jobs, is the same as if he came to California and made hydraulic mining legal again. There's still gold in them there hills. Billions of dollars worth. It wasn't a lack of gold that made people stop mining. It was the environmental cost.

And the environmental cost of coal is just as high. Climate change is real. The flooding and the droughts and the effects on our ability to produce crops is just as real as the flood waters and debris coming out of the Sierra Nevadas to cover the Sacramento plain and destroy... everything.

The best part is this:
He doesn't care about the jobs. He wants to pay shit wages, too. He's one of the corporation ticks wanting to suck you dry while he gets rich. And I hear you, "But Trump doesn't own coal mines!" (Actually, we don't know that since, you know, he won't release his tax returns.) Sure, Trump doesn't own any coal mines, but his buddies do, and, with them, it's all about scratching each others' backs.

Do I feel bad for the people who will and are losing their jobs because of the dying coal industry? Sure, I do. But I also believe the cost is too high to support the metaphoric 2000 jobs of a few miners at the expense of the rest of the world, because, yes, it is the rest of the world. For the moment, though, why don't you go to south Louisiana and talk to the folks there who are losing their coastline due to climate change. People who are having to move due to the destruction that other people are causing so that a few (a few!) can get rich. Richer. So that a few can get even more rich.
The monster in the mountain. (Doesn't it look like a Pac-Man ghost?)


  1. I've long hated the idea that jobs can't be "lost." From the GM intervention to Trump's deal on the factory in Indiana, politicians act like preserving JOBS is the only thing. It reminds me of Vonnegut's "Player Piano."

    Progress, and economics, means that sometimes companies will become obsolete, or will fail, and jobs will be lost as a result of that. As a society, our goal should not be to preserve a *particular* kind of job, but instead to ensure that people displaced by progress or economic warfare aren't refugized (?) themselves: we could provide retraining, education, housing incentives, moving assistance, easier access to bankruptcy, those kind of things.

    The coal subsidies are presumably meant to help keep energy costs down, which itself is harmful; not only do the upper crust of the companies peel off unnecessary profits, but artificially-low fossil fuel costs help prevent innovation. Gas has stayed at a couple bucks per gallon in our part of the country for the past decade, maybe? I can't really remember how long. But I can recall $4/gallon gas and it was during that time that the hybrid and electric car boom really began. Now we've stalled out at our hybrids again and they're making less fuel-effiicent hybrids. The Lexus Hybrid gets fewer miles per gallon than my old (nonhybrid) Saturn did: 20 mpg, for a HYBRID.

    So it's not just that it wrecks the environment, or that people get rich. It's that a focus on preserving the present helps keep us from moving forward.

    1. Briane: It's not even preserving the present; it's rewinding to some idealized view of the past. And, sure, moving forward will mean that some people will lose their jobs, possibly even permanently, but that's why there should be social programs to support those people. It's like taking care of your elders who at one time supported you. Society has to shift, and, hopefully, it's shifting forward.

  2. Trickle down economics is a dangerous and powerful myth. Thank you for this concrete demonstration.

    1. TAS: But the Republicans believe very strongly in doing the same thing over and over again in case it works at some point.

  3. The whole "miners made shit wages while owners got rich" is exactly what they want to go back to, with all of us as the miners. Not necessarily as miners, but whatever else they need for their serfdom.

  4. It's a sad state of affairs. In the end, the jobs will still be lost. They're just trying to eke out a few more years, I think. Because the pendulum will have to swing back. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

    1. Liz: Yeah, there's a gold mining story about that, too. I should probably write that one up, too.