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Look at what has happened to the scarcity of aluminum over the past 100 years.

The top chart adjusts nominal aluminum prices to account for the general rise in prices since 1900 using a measure of the CPI’s broad inflation index. The bottom chart takes a different approach to adjust the aluminum data. It looks at the hourly wage of a typical manufacturing worker and asks how many hours would a typical worker need to work in order to secure a unit of aluminum.

Copper 1900-2009_140_image001

Copper 1900-2009_140_image002

(note, I imputed the hourly wages for 1915-1918). Aluminum data from USGS, CPI data from BLS and wage data from Historical Statistics of the United States and BLS.

By any metric, the scarcity of aluminum is no higher today (in fact, it is much lower) than it was over 100 years ago, even as human consumption of aluminum has rocketed with economic growth and population growth. In real terms, aluminum prices have fallen by 90% since 1900 from $18,523 per metric ton to $1,790 per metric ton today. In 1900, it took a typical manufacturing worker 3,363 work hours to secure himself a ton of aluminum. Today, a similar worker would only have to work 90 hours to get it – a decrease of over 97 percent over the course of the century. And as I will show you, these are lower bounds for just how much less scarce aluminum really has become. Aluminum prices would have to rise to $67,157 per metric ton to make it just as hard for a typical worker to get it today as it was in 1900. Alternately, if aluminum prices remain unchanged, the typical worker would have his pay slashed to just over $0.53 (that’s FIFTY THREE CENTS) per hour in order to be in a position that his 1900 counterpart was in.

But this is just aluminum, right?

One Response to “On the Eighth Day of Christmas”

  1. Harry says:

    Right. It’s aluminum, and clearly we are running out of it like everything else.

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