Swedish Coal Miners 1939

Coal mining, agency and perceptions

This is a response to a friend on Twitter that made several claims about coal mining, political power and economics. I will try to explain why these assertions are unrealistic. My primary interest in this post is not the specifics of coal mining and how it is being phased out as a viable industry in every advanced society, instead my interest lies in understanding how these belief systems arise and assume a life of their own.

You are making several arguments that don’t reflect reality in regards to coal mining, regulations, governance and economics in our country. You assert that “The costs of this change are being borne entirely by the mining community while the decisions are being made by others.”

This is not accurate and doesn’t reflect what is actually occurring. What this view reflects is how it looks from the coal miner’s, farmer’s and manufacturing worker’s perspective. The problem is that this is a partial perspective that reveals but the tip of the Elephant’s trunk, leaving the totality of ‘Elephant’ entirely out of view, out of mind and out of discussion.

You claim that coal miners have no voice, that they are hapless victims of vaguely defined elites that impose rules on miners activities, without a care, from the outside. This is a fantasy that denies the existence of our entire political system as well as the massive power of the coal lobby and unions in that system. The coal mining lobby has wielded great political power and influence over regulations over the relevant period of reference.

You claim that regulations were abruptly imposed from the outside by some vaguely defined elite. They were not abruptly imposed. Regulations were fought for many decades by the coal lobby, every inch of the way, and are still not tough enough by any standard that takes societal health and the environment into consideration.

You claim that coal miners themselves should decide what regulations are appropriate. This is a recipe for health and environmental disaster. Self-regulation has never worked in any sector and it never will because either we embrace enlightened self-interest or we don’t. If we accept that enlightened self-interest is real and should be encouraged, then it follows that the various groups in the economy have to be regulated and governed by representatives from all groups that participate in said economy; not each one by themselves.

Change is inevitable and has nothing to do with “divorcing elites from responsibility etc.” And yes change is being imposed by “cultural and econ forces outside of society”; that’s how change happens!

Communities don’t want change! Human beings don’t want change; we want things to stay the way they are now! Change comes from the outside. This is nothing new, sinister or strange.

Should society educate and retrain people? Yes! And support them in every way in finding new work in new fields of endeavor. The difficulty lies in having a discussion based on something that appears to be true but is based on a partial understanding of how a modern economy works. This view is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to recognize the fact that for a group functional outcome to occur, the group must be the unit of selection.

It fails to recognize the reason we have indoor plumbing and electricity today; massive investment in fixed costs far beyond anything possible on a purely local level. When technological innovation occurs it will sooner or later affect every tiny little community except those completely off the grid. And yes this change comes from the outside.

Now you can argue that Capitalism is not what you want but that’s a different, bigger discussion for another day. :)