The visible hand in economics

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Posted on: January 13, 2008

Dwindling natural resources and increasing consumption are global problems that get plenty of airtime these days. So where do all the metals extracted and ‘consumed’ go? Well, apparently they end up in dumps in Japan:

Despite perception of Japan being short of natural resources, “urban mines” mean the country actually possesses world-leading amounts of rare metals such as gold, silver, lead and indium… in discarded items such as cars or electrical equipment. Japan’s urban mines contain about 61 percent of known natural indium reserves, 22 percent of natural silver reserves, 16 percent of natural gold reserves and 10 percent of natural lead reserves.

It appears that reserves of extractable resources are being taken from the ground, often in the third world, and ending up in dumps in developed nations. At some stage it will become cheaper to recover and recycle the material from the dumps than to extract the last of the reserves in the ground. What happens then to the African economies that presently rely heavily on their plentiful mineral reserves? Will we eventually see the contents of developed nations’ urban dumps shipped back to developing nations, where labour is cheap, to be recycled?

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