Sunday, May 13, 2007

Thoughts on Leadville

This Saturday we visited Leadville and saw the various tourist-y things. We did the tour of the Matchless Mine and got lots of info about Baby Doe and Tabor. At the peak of this silver mine, Baby Doe and Tabor were getting $10,000 worth of silver a least according to the guide. That is a lot by today's standard, but I used an inflation calculator, and that would equal $216,401.75 in 2006 dollars. But despite all this money, it didn't end well for either of them. He ended up working for the same amount his workers that worked for him went on strike for: $3 a day, doing back-breaking work. A lot of things went through my mind during this tour, as the topics raised during this tour and being in Leadville in generally seemed to constantly evoke parallels with things I've just recently been reading or listening to on podcasts.

1. Hubris. My god, the hubris. Neither of these people seemed to come from really poor backgrounds, yet they seemed to be spending what they earned like Anna Nicole Smith on steroids. How does one spend $10K a DAY and not save something for a rainy day? Okay, there are some who could do that pretty easily, but how about $216K?

2. The Wizard of Oz and the populist interpretation. This is one book I've got to read...I've heard (and probably most everyone has heard) about all the symbolism in this book about gold standards, etc. But just this past week, I was listening to the Occult of Personality, and he goes into it in some depth with a guest, even though they are more interested in the Theosophy behind it (Apparently Baum was a Theosophist). It made me think I should learn more about this dual metal standard that so many wanted. Also brought up thoughts again about the book "The Little Money Book" that talks about the very meaning of money and where it gets its value. Hint: it's more than just about gold.

3. Living structures. Here was this 80-some year old woman living in essentially a shack, and getting by, by herself. She could walk into town and wasn't shuttled off to some old home to live out her years. I've recently finished some books on suburban design vs. new urbanism or books that critique the suburban fiasco, and this really struck me - this woman who no longer had anything could live in this shack. I'd think today she'd either be put in an old folks' home, a mental institution (maybe before Reagan) or be homeless. One of the critiques of suburbia is that anyone unable to drive (under 16 set, the very old) are essentially stranded and quality of life suffers terribly.

4. Class warfare. And not the "class warfare" that the conservatives mean, either. I mean class warfare conducted by elites against everyone else. It seemed like sweet justice that here was the former owner being reduced to working at the same place for the same $3 a day after his fall from grace. But it didn't really change the situation for the better for anyone else, either.

5. Credit card debt. The Tabors essentially lost the mine because they were living on credit. Instead of paying down debt with their huge daily windfall, they kept mortgaging the mine. Eventually the bank took it over. There were chuckles about how silly those people could be in the past...and yet. The data as a NATION as far as credit card debt goes looks not much better.

6. What real work is like. The miner's job was (and I assume still is most places) an awful one. I had a great-grandfather who died from black lung he obtained by mining coal in Pennsylvania. I don't even get my hands dirty at work at all, and don't break a sweat. The biggest danger is repetitive motion injury and such a sedentary lifestyle. I basically live like a king compared to those that did/do real work, even though I'm maybe in the upper-middle class at best. No real deep thoughts there, it just really strikes home when you are reminded of what real work is like.

It's interesting how a short little trip can really get the gears spinning on some topics.

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