Author:  wisconsin_cur [ Mon Aug 24, 2009 11:59 pm ]
Blog Subject:  The biggest bubble

Globalizations come and go just like other economic bubbles. They just inflate at a much slower rate, often over decades or centuries, so they become an even greater ingrained expectation than other bubbles. The deflation can be as quick as the outbreak of the First World War or as drawn out as the death of the Roman Empire. Like any bubble, however, the way down is as dislocating as the way up is infatuating.

In today's Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports on a story that may well answer the abiding question of when we shall fall from the plateau of our current globalization and begin the roll down the backside into the toilet bowel beyond. China, it seems, is considering the very rationale move of banning the export of many rare earth metals, and restricting the export of still more, that are vital not only to much electronic consumer goods and military hardware but some of the great strides we have made in efficiency as well. The story begins,

A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.

China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to horde reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.

Some of these metals can be found in other locations, the story continues, but their extraction will require 5-10 years lead time and even then will not be produced in the same amounts as China now exports. No doubt many of these metals can be reclaimed from cell phones and i-pods if (or rather when) supply becomes short. We could even scrap usable electronics so that the metal could be used in more critical applications.

Regardless how this plays out we have a major regional power considering taking its most precious natural resource off the world market. It is powerful both in its direct effect as well as a precedent. China is glancing nervously at the fire exit. Many others will start to do the same. It is just a matter of time before someone makes a break. At that moment the biggest bubble in the history of humanity will pop and our current laments about the housing bubble will become less than a footnote.

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