To the extent that these studies alert potential investors and customers of an upcoming shortage, they serve a good purpose ["America's New Energy Dependency: China's Metals," usnews.com]. The markets are always looking for good investments, and customers of rare earth who don't plan for alternative sources of supply will deservedly be hurt if a shortage occurs. The government can certainly promote investment in research at the university level. But otherwise the notion that the government can plan resource development better than private industry is refuted by the example given. The United States has a much higher standard of living than China precisely because we rely more on the free market than government planning. In fact, a large part of our current troubles are because the government promoted housing and cheap mortgages too much on the theory that that was "good" for us. Any time you favor one special interest group, you hurt the economy at large. The best way for the government to help the rare earth industry is to foster rational tax and environmental policies, not to tell them where and how much to invest.
Comment by James Fox of PA
The fact is, in our political economic system, time and money are pretty interchangeable. If rare earth becomes valuable enough, political pressure will overcome regulatory issues, and sufficient resources will be brought to bear to very quickly open up mines. If rare earth is only marginally valuable, it'll take near forever to reopen a mine.
Comment by Steve Wang of PA
Having abundant and inexpensive alternatives to everything that is scarce is the only real long-term solution when discussing competitiveness in the global economy, because then, no one state actor on the global stage can hog and control scarce resources. Finding inexpensive and efficient alternatives to a number of now scarce resources requires innovative research. I wonder how much more money could be poured into R & D (research and development) related tasks if we weren't using some of it to prop up failed auto companies and irresponsible bankers. We need a permanent bailout from desperation for scarce resources. It's both a common sense and national security issue.
Comment by Angie Koutrotsios of IL
Thank you for having the foresight to write about a looming crisis that the average American is not yet aware of. After reading your article I began researching the rare earth topic. What I found by Googling "rare earth shortages" amazed me. There have been other articles written in various newspapers about this problem (especially in the past six months) but never in a mainstream U.S. news magazine. Even while we are celebrating our nation's Fourth of July weekend, China is making headlines buying foreign natural resource companies (Teck Resources of Canada). I hope this article attracts attention to this potentially severe supply imbalance and shortage.
Comment by Susan Glatstein of NY
It normally takes seven to 10 years to restart a mine, often longer. Feasibility studies, financing, permitting, EPA, environmental impact, equipment construction, approved safety plan, mine infrastructure, skilled labor sourcing, and negotiated agreements, plus about a dozen other items. The rare earth metal shortages could become acute before any mines are back online. There are some compelling rare earth investments out there.
Comment by Tom Hartel of IL