While the coronavirus has struck just a few people in the United States, its impact on Chinese supply chains has damaged our financial markets and taught us all an important lesson: domestic self-reliance is critical. There are advantages to getting resources from abroad, but also massive disadvantages.
Meanwhile, the obvious value of our increased domestic resource production in the last three years has been phenomenal. Growth in energy production and agriculture has enabled us to rely less on foreign trading partners while literally selling rice to the Chinese and oil to the Middle East!
For an encore, perhaps the U.S. will figure out how to similarly boost sales of other precious metals to everyone.
China is the world’s leading producer of gold, more than doubling the United States’ output every year. Russia is also ahead of the U.S. – which shouldn’t be surprising given how truly massive the country of Russia is – but that means two of the three top gold producers are antagonistic countries whose trade relationships with the United States are at best unstable. While boosting their domestic production, both the Chinese and the Russians are also increasing their gold holding in order to diversify away from the U.S. dollar, which undermines our sphere of influence in both Asia and Eastern Europe.
The most consistently valuable form of currency in human history, gold is still worth more than $1,600 an oz. to this day.
Another notable mineral the U.S. needs more of is antimony. While certainly not as famous or beautiful as gold, antimony is the building block of our modern economy. It’s an indispensable part of consumer electronics, renewable energy, petroleum refining, plastics, and on and on. Antimony has also been a critical component of our military’s effectiveness since World War II, used in explosives, ammunition, submarines, and on and on.
Alas, the United States is 100% dependent on antimony imports. Currently, China controls 75% of the world’s production and 90% of its smelting and refining capacity. You’ll never hear about an antimony cold war on the news, but in 2009 China restricted exports of antimony to protect its own industries and in 2018 the Department of the Interior placed it on a list of 35 minerals vital to national and economic well-being, but that are in short supply and dominated by foreign sources.
However, as with so many other problems, there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.
The great state of Idaho is sitting on top of enormous reserves of gold, antimony, and other precious metals. Idaho’s Stibnite Mining District is home to at least 180 million pounds of antimony and more than six million oz of gold.
And this wealth is just sitting there, waiting to be collected. While production has been dormant for many years, a plan is moving forward.
The development plan, proposed by the creatively named Midas Gold, is well into the permitting and approval process with the U.S. Forest Service, the state of Idaho, and other relevant authorities. Midas’ plan will exponentially boost domestic production of these valuable metals, reduce reliance on China and others, protect us from unpredictable black swans in global supply chains, and give Idaho something to brag about besides potatoes.
Investors are doubling down and supporting Midas. Paulson & Co. recently made a $35 million investment to secure these critical, valuable, rare minerals. The Stibnite Gold Project will provide more than 500 long-term, high-paying jobs in rural Idaho, helping extend the economic revitalization rural Americans have enjoyed in the last three years.
This kind of measure also inoculates rural Americans who might be collateral damage in necessary trade wars.
Now, of course, environmentalists are making knee-jerk attacks against Midas with doom-and-gloom handwringing that it will destroy the environment if the mine reopens. However, the Canadian-based mining company plans to revitalize the mine and surrounding area by cleaning up the previously impacted brownfields mine site and bringing it into alignment with modernized, more environmentally conscious mining techniques.
Ongoing conflict between environmentalists and the economy should be left in the 20th century. As with issues like the immensely successful conservation easements program, private investment is the most viable option to fix the historic Stibnite Mining District’s pre-existing mining problems.
We all hope the coronavirus will come and go as quickly as possible. But who knows when the next scare will come? Domestic self-reliance is critical.
Jared Whitley is a long-time DC politico who writes about the impact of government regulation on business. He worked in the US Senate, the White House, and the defense industry. He is a graduate of Hult International Business School in Dubai and an associate of the Global Justice Foundation.
Rare earths and critical minerals are also key. US is almost 100% reliant on China for these, and they are used for MRIs and stealth weapons, smartphones and electric car batteries. America needs to develop a new supply chain outside of China, as well as tap its own natural resources. Like oil & gas, we can become mineral independent, too.