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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rare Metal Squeezes

It so happens that shenanigans in Asia have suddenly led to some price sky rockets that affect two of my main activities.

The first had to do with the solder that holds the pieces together in the copper foil method of assembling stained glass projects. The most recommended kind is 60/40, an alloy of 60% tin and 40% lead. Two or three years ago (I have stopped trusting what I tell people about time spans, because all that is starting to run badly together) you could get a pound for six or seven dollars. Now it has tripled to an average of 19 or 20 dollars.

This outrage could have something to do with the rare metals difficulty that has been going on with China, the world's chief supplier of those metals, though I always thought that the U.S. has plenty of lead mines, while I remember that during World War 2, the hangup with tin was that Malaya (now called Malaysia), not China, was the main source, but both places had been overrun by the Japanese, and I remember as a child doing my bit for the war effort by walking along the roads in then rural but now wall-to-wall shopping mall Landover, Maryland and picking up all the discarded cigarette packs I could find, tearing out the tinfoil inner linings, and molding them till soon I had a heavy, good-sized cube, for building a tank or a bomb or whatever.. It's surprising now to think how there was no shortage of those crumpled packs, while today you never see them among the roadside littler. They've been replaced by beer cans and fast food wrappings.

Rare metal companies are supposed to be gearing up in places like Death Valley to avoid being crunched by China, but I guess that hasn't gotten far enough along. Whenever foreign shortages develop, there're always supposed to be sources somewhere in this huge country of ours to take up the slack. Otherwise what was the use of grabbing all this land from the Indians?

But that's all right, because also I don't have anything at the moment to solder, being as that I haven't done any stained glass for about five months. But I suspect that whenever I do get something ready, a little roll of solder will still cost 20 bucks or more. Sellers get comfortable with that kind of windfall markup, you know

Computer hard drives have also tripled in price, and normally reasonable vendors are asking $110 or more for sizes that just a few weeks ago you could get for just $30 or $40. The cause of that, as I understand it, is that the makers of one particular piece that goes into the drives, I think it's called the slider, are all made in Thailand, and their factories all went under water during the recent floods there.

But I am suspicious, because the sellers feel justified in raising those prices so sharply and quickly by saying that though that may not be one right now, as soon as their inventory runs out, there's going to be a big shortage, and it could be a year or two before hard drives hit their former quite reasonable price, compared to what they used to cost in the old days for just a small fraction of modern capacities

It has the ring to me, though, of those who instantly raise the price of food to the survivors as soon as there's some natural catastrophe, grabbing the chance to make a quick killing. Shouldn't they wait till there actually is a shortage before they raise their prices? I guess not, because then people, knowing the shortage was coming up, would just gobble up all the hard drives they could find at those lower prices and hoard them.

I could be too attuned to how much things used to cost, compared to what they cost now. This mental malfunction reaches its nadir with a flyer that I get from an insurance company every year during my birthday, telling how much various common items cost the day I was born. That was a lot of years ago, yet somehow those prices, intended to sound comically low, don't seem to me to be too far out of line with what they should be today. (Smile)


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