‘Hi…you’re young and you got your health…what you want with a job?’
Evelle, Raising Arizona
We’re up in Northwest Argentina. First stop was the city of Salta, where we met with our trusty lawyer.
Monday and Tuesday were holidays — Carnival. All was quiet. Wednesday, the city was back to its usual hustle and bustle. Streets crowded. Hotels full.
It was Ash Wednesday, so we walked down to the central square to the magnificent Cathedral of San Francisco. So many Christians were eager to get the smudge on their foreheads that the church ran full almost all day long, with services every hour.
We couldn’t understand the sermon, partly because half of it was done with a faulty microphone, but we greatly admired the elaborate gilding and silverwork. The place is stunning:
Source: Bill Bonner
Argentina claims to be ‘the most European country in the world’. Here, people make a joke of it:
The Mexicans descended from Aztecs.
The Peruvians descended from Incas.
The Argentines descended from boats.
Argentina never had many African immigrants…and those it had, according to popular lore, were put on the front lines in the war against Paraguay in the 19th century. Whether this is true or not, we don’t know, but there are very few African-Argentines today.
As for the indigenous population, it was mostly exterminated or exiled in Julio Argentino Roca’s ‘Conquest of the Desert’ in the 1870s. Those few who are left are concentrated in Salta…and at our farm.
In the Cathedral of San Francisco was a mixture of mixtures. Most people in attendance seemed to have more than a little of the local Indian blood. Here, as elsewhere in the world, people tend to group together depending on their cultures and backgrounds and find a place that suits them. Some neighbourhoods are darker than others. Generally, the darker the skin, the poorer the people. When you are in affluent neighbourhoods, such as the nearby town of San Lorenzo, you could be in Italy or France. Other ‘barrios’ are more like poor sections of Los Angeles.
Introducing the Colorometer™
These are just averages and stereotypes, of course. But statistics and stereotypes are the bread and butter of public policies. In the US, the Biden Administration has just ordered a campaign of ‘racial equity’ for the federal government. ‘Agency Equity Teams’ are supposed to make sure they discriminate in favour of the people they want and against those they don’t want.
But the problem with this, and all racist programs, is that they ignore quality and merit completely. It doesn’t really matter how much you deserve a break or need one; it’s all about what category they put you in.
The program aims to give preferences to ‘people of colour’. But how much colour do you need to qualify? Should the dark-skinned daughter of an Indian billionaire biophysicist get a break…but not the fair-skinned son of West Virginia trailer trash?
Since the whole idea is to give preference to people with dark skins…and since, generally, the more melanin you have, the poorer you are…the simplest way to solve the problem, if there were one, would be to develop a ‘colorometer’ app. Yes, dear reader, here we offer our own claptrap contribution to a claptrap program run by claptrap people based on claptrap notions. You just point the ‘colorometer’ at the person and it gives you a number, which determines how much of a preference or punishment the person should get. The more colour, the more ‘equity’, whatever that is.
Note to the feds: no need to thank us for that suggestion. If you’re dim enough to actually take it up, we’ll claim we had nothing to do with it.
Meanwhile, Salta is booming.
Win, lose, or…worse
‘It’s hard to find an apartment to rent’, explained our legal advisor, ‘and if you find one, it’s going to be expensive’.
This seemed odd. All the economic news coming out of Argentina is bad. What is the source of so much bustle in the North, we wanted to know?
‘It’s all based on one thing — lithium. It’s like a gold mining boom. Everybody wants to get in on it.’
The way it works, at least as it was told to us, sounds a lot like the way the telecom industry was developed in the US in the ’90s. The government took applications for areas that would be served by a cell phone tower. Anyone could apply. The licenses were awarded by lottery. But then, you had to build out the service.
We applied, along with a group of friends. And we won one — out in South Dakota, if we recall correctly. The trouble was, there weren’t many people in the area. If we had been able to teach cows how to use cell phones, we would have had a winner, but there was not enough human traffic to justify the investment.
‘I was in a lottery for a lithium area’, explained a man we met later.
‘There were only three bidders. A Chinese company. A Canadian company. And me. The Chinese and Canadians were represented by their lawyers.
‘It was very old-fashioned. They put three numbers into a tumbler. I had #2. You could watch the numbers in the tumbler. I was chatting with the woman who was turning the crank. I knew her. She slowed up…and I could see that my number was not in position to win…so I asked her how her son was doing…and she turned the crank again while she answered.
‘This time my number was in a good position, so I stopped talking. And guess what? She opened the chute…and my number came out. I won.’
Once again, the particular triumphed over statistics and theory.
But wait, there’s more. Lithium is big business. Everybody says so. And the whole world, they say, is switching to battery power…and batteries require lithium, lots of it. But investors, lovers, parish priests, and businesspeople live in a different world…not one of statistics and headlines, but one of particulars…details…special situations, and keeping your eye on the tumbler. Our lithium lottery winner continued:
‘I don’t have the money to develop a lithium mining operation. So, I went to the Canadian and the Chinese and offered to go into partnership with them. But they said they didn’t want partners. So, now I’m stuck…somehow, I’ve got to come up with millions of dollars…and someone who knows the mining business. So far, it’s not looking very good. And if I can’t develop it, I don’t just lose the concession; I could lose everything.’
He pointed towards his house.
More to come.
For The Daily Reckoning Australia