STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Rare Earth Is Not so Rare … Redux
By Staff News & Analysis - March 25, 2013

Japan breaks China's stranglehold on rare metals with sea-mud bonanza … Japanese scientists have found vast reserves of rare earth metals on the Pacific seabed that can be mined cheaply, a discovery that may break the Chinese monopoly on a crucial raw material needed in hi-tech industries and advanced weapons systems. The team have found deposits just two to four metres from the seabed surface at higher concentrations than anybody ever thought existed. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: Incredible. Imagine that! Rare earth metals have been found in the sea. What luck!

Free-Market Analysis: Gee, rare earth metals have been found in the sea. This is really a breakthrough, according to the UK Telegraph (above).

We're supposed to be shocked by this occurrence. Or perhaps we are supposed to rejoice. Who knows?

Well … actually, we did predict this kind of occurrence just about a year ago in an article entitled "The Rare Earth Meme – Another Scarcity Hoax."

Rare earth elements are not rare. You can count on it. Oil is not rare. Food is not rare. Water is not rare. These are all dominant social themes – scarcity memes – fear-based promotions of the power elite.

The idea is always the same. Manufacture the perception that something "critical" is running out and then bring in the "experts" – politicians, government generally – to "fix" the problem. Even if the problem is "unfixable" or drags on, the promotional meme is bolstered. The very act of politicians, experts, "leaders" arguing over an issue reinforces the idea that it is something too complex for ordinary people to fathom.

The media itself – controlled by the same power elite that apparently controls central banks around the world – plays a critical part in this charade. There is nothing like the New York Times emblazoning a scarcity meme on its front page to give it credibility. "World Running Out of Water" – etc.

We also quoted from the Smithsonian as follows:

Given their name, rare earth elements, and the fact that China controls 96 percent of REE production, you might think the Chinese had won some geologic lottery. But these metallic substances—elements 57 to 71 on the periodic table, plus scandium and yttrium—are not all that rare. It's been economic and scientific smarts, not geologic luck, that has given China its near monopoly on these elements …

The United States has one of the richest REE deposits in the world, at Mountain Pass in California, but as interest in rare earths declined in this country in the late 20th century, China's interest was heating up. Chinese scientists had visited during the Nixon Administration and taken their knowledge home, applying it to their own rich deposits. By the end of the 20th century, they were able to undersell the competition and drive most of the rest of the world out of the business …

Earlier this year, China blocked REE exports to Japan, renewing concerns about the Chinese monopoly and prompting new calls for developing rare earth production elsewhere. The Mountain Pass mine, which has been inactive for several years, is scheduled to start up again in 2011. A new report from the USGS documents REE deposits in 13 additional states, and India, Australia and Canada are planning to get into the rare earths business more heavily.

So let us sum up. We can see from the above that rare earth metals are subject to a good deal of political gamesmanship and when we did our research we found out that there were plenty of such metals in the US, only various barriers stood in the way of their extraction.

Now such metals have been found in the sea by Japanese researchers and perhaps these metals shall start to be mined. In fact, the lesson to be drawn once again is that the Earth is a great engine of energy and commodities. Nothing is rare in reality that comes from the Earth, though some of it may be harder to extract.

Another tip-off regarding relative scarcity is the names themselves. "Rare earth" or "fossil fuel" is nomenclature that gives us the idea that the element in question is in short supply. What needs to be realized is that the market itself is a resourceful beast. The Invisible Hand will supply what is necessary if left alone and allowed to work.

The article has a certain air of breathlessness about it in order to impress its newsworthiness upon the reader. But toward the bottom of the article, we come across the admission – once more – that "rare earth metals are not all that rare."

After Thoughts

Indeed, our readers knew this long ago.

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