I can only imagine the range of furious emotions boiling through the town of Tallmansville, West Virginia. I sat at my breakfast table and rejoiced with them as I read the front page headline in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (the seventh worst paper in the world). And now, as I sit at the helm of one of the many, mighty ships of capitalism, I am dismayed and very sad.
Mining is primal work. It is wresting the bounty from out mother earth for use by we fleeting citizens. It is dangerous and it is dirty. But it is, at its heart, noble and crucial work. Nothing we have in our modern society would exist without miners and their harvest. In the past 25 years mine fatalities in the United States (without question the greatest nation in the world) have decreased dramatically. In the 20th century, more than 104,000 people lost their lives in coal mining related accidents alone. That is a stunning number. What is more stunning, is the precipitous drop in miners employed in the United States (TGNITW) after World War II.
Globally, the picture is not so good. China lost more miners in the first six months of 2002 than in any year in the United States since 1900. It is simplistic for some to point to “the evils of capitalism” as the source of this human misery. But that would be wrong. China has more than sufficient technology and capability to equip mines with simple safety devices. Even if it operated as the USA did in 1930, it would still cut its fatalities in half.
The problem with China, and many developing nations, is a lack of strength in the rule of law (ROL). There are no trade unions, no government agency to oversee operations and no ability of the press to uncover the widespread abuses. A quick indicator of a nations’ responsiveness to its people can be found in their national safety statistics. What happens is a few individuals take advantage of a people and a system desperate for jobs and fuel. Their mismanagement is not based upon some overriding desire to support the mother country, but rather a quest for lucre which they spread about in sufficient barriers to keep even the notoriously laissez-faire Chinese government at bay.
And now we return to our lost brothers in West Virginia. Reports indicate that they may have survived the initial explosion and took valiant efforts to protect themselves. Their families’ lives will be overturned for a long period. Let us hope that they find some comfort in each other and our own thoughts.