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Revenge isn't enough

Nov 22, 2023
Revenge lends itself to all kinds of colourful analogies. First dig two graves. A dish best served cold. But no one really cares what analogy you use when everyone is making money.
That’s how we ended up with Revenge of the Miners. The slogan was originally coined by one-time Steve Jobs classmate Robert Friedland to explain the newly prominent role miners would assume in the energy transition. And it made sense. Electric vehicles require untold amounts of metals that only mining companies can supply. The revenge fantasy just added the Star Wars morality we all unwittingly craved.
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Only revenge could justify the years of suffering endured by anyone misfortunate enough to hold shares in a mining company. And yet today when we look at any of these portfolios, it’s worth asking who really got revenge on whom?
Of course, mining investors are not alone. Around this time I was a regular listener to unsolicited humblebrag. It would go something like: “I must be lucky, everything I buy just keeps going up.” Though, for some reason, haven’t heard much of that lately. This isn’t about revelling in anyone’s misfortune, only to point out we’ve all followed slogans to their logical end.
Which is why the measured success of a slogan has only passing relevance to its predictive power. For anyone who courts investors for a living that should be clear by the inconceivable success of CNBC mainstay Jim Cramer. A fund was recently raised with the express purpose of inverse correlation to his market calls, and the returns have been a modest success. No, the problem with Revenge of the Miners is it was never clear who we were getting revenge on.
Let’s move beyond Revenge. It’s born of a scarcity mindset, and we need to look deeper than the latest warmed over Disney franchise.
La Reconquista was the chapter in Spanish history where the Moors were pushed back and an independent Spain was reborn. But they didn’t stop there. A global empire was built and thrived on exploration, discovery, and metals.
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This is where we can draw inspiration for a new slogan. Because right now miners are taking back what was once theirs from the once invincible oil industry. And soon enough we will find ourselves looking out on a blue ocean as the Spanish once did after the siege of Granada.
We forget history at our own peril. The invention of the automobile also presented oil, electricity, and steam as potential energy sources. It was not then inevitable that oil would have an uninterrupted reign over the 20th century. But in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory the oil industry underlines the importance of choosing the right slogan.
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The oil industry did not invent the term fossil fuels. But they did embrace the slogan as it conferred a certain rarity and therefore price premium on their product. How this was later used against them turned out to be a perfect invocation of Lenin’s aphorism against capitalists, “they will sell us the rope we use to hang them with.”
But this time really is different. Electricity is the clear choice. In fact, the choice has been made for us already by governments preemptively setting dates where internal combustion engines will be outlawed. And its unlikely steam will make a comeback as a nuclear powered vehicle. Though it’s technically feasible, it strikes me as unlikely anyone would want to drive around with a potential Chernobyl under their hood.
I’m not married to La Reconquista. It’s been mentioned to me that miners already have a lot of baggage. And honestly, yes, I agree. It’s hard enough to convince my more ethically minded friends I’m not personally responsible for dumping hydrochloric acid in a Guatemalan village’s water supply.
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And that’s where the government comes in to save the day. A nameless bureaucrat at the UN has gifted us: Critical Materials. Bland, but brilliant. The whole industry is at once united around the timeless pursuit of building the future. And we no longer bear the burden of proof.
I’ll be the first to admit it lacks the cutting edge of La Reconquista. But if we can learn anything from the mistakes of others, maybe that’s for the better.