A guest speaker in Duluth yesterday long has been a dark cloud over any prediction of economic benefit related to the coming mining of precious metals in northern Minnesota.
A guest speaker in Duluth yesterday long has been a dark cloud over any prediction of economic benefit related to the coming mining of precious metals in northern Minnesota. And he was brought here by Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, a Minneapolis-based anti-mining nonprofit.
So the expectation, naturally, was for a mining-is-evil message. And that’s just what Thomas Power, a Princeton-educated economics professor of 40 years at the University of Montana, delivered. But at least he did so with a history lesson rather than with half-truth propaganda or with picket-sign catch phrases that too often have been the weak tools of the doom-and-gloom, anti-mining crowd.
“My message is to go in with eyes wide open,” Power told the News Tribune Opinion page before speaking over the lunch hour Tuesday at Clyde Iron. “I’ve been doing economic research and teaching courses on Montana’s and on the western states’ economies for 45 years. … It wasn’t possible to study the Montana economy without paying attention to the mining part of it.”
Power always found it puzzling, he said, that throughout the 20th century, miners typically made good money and treasure literally was being extracted from the Earth, yet mining communities rarely showed signs of prosperity. That’s because, he learned, the vast bulk of wealth left mining communities in the pockets of out-of-town owners, investors and corporate executives. But that was only part of it.
“It isn’t just owners ripping everyone off. They put a lot of money in and they expect to get the money out,” he said. “The problem is twofold.”
The first is that prices for copper in the national and international markets fluctuate wildly. “So the profitability was always uncertain and the level of production was uncertain and the level of employment was uncertain,” Power said. “During hard times, when copper prices were low, companies had to lay people off (to stay competitive and in business). That’s not a time to go on strike, so the unions waited until copper prices were high and then they went on strike.”
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