Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Dirt Industry

Just back from a trip to India.  Lots of cool stuff going on--Gurgaon looks like Hong Kong, Bhopal's still livable--but from an economist point of view there's something very strange about Asian economies: The reliance on the dirt industry.

This is perhaps most evident in China, where a full logistics supply chain links dirt farms to dirt distribution centers, onwards via truck and barge to dirt refineries, where they are processed before being sent to additional refineries.  This serves to efficiently combine and distribute many different kinds of dirt via a long logistics supply chain.  Final uses include fertilizer and plaster for construction purposes, but much of the dirt remains in a closed loop from one area to another--something of a modern day shell-trading circle.

India has further specialized in the dust and rock industries.  Abundant rock farms supply the necessary raw materials, which are distributed for end use alongside roads.  These are slowly ground into smaller and smaller rock forms, before reentering the economy in pebble form.  The dust industry tends to be a little more nature-oriented.  As leveling forests opens up vast plains of dust, these gradually enter the ecosystem in a vast cyclic pattern.  Falling on the ground, they are laboriously brushed and swept and trodden back into the air, before circulating and falling again through the efforts of time and (especially) rainfall.  On the land, patterns of dust use create migratory dunes.  

I await the work of more distinguished ecologists and economists looking into this criminally understudied economic sector.

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