As each of the following seven towns from history around the world boomed on the back of resource-hungry bubbles, no one could have foreseen (or even believed) that it would ever end... but as the following dismal images show - end it did. Is this the future for North Dakota or Texas? or Silicon Valley? (of course not stupid... it's different this time).
Although many small mining towns survive commodity-market downturns, some simply fold up when prices fall or their resources are exhausted. A few of the world's best-known mining ghost towns:
KOLMANSKOP, Sperrgebiet, Namibia
German migrants built stately homes, a casino and Africa's first tram after diamonds were discovered in 1908 in this part of the Namib desert. By the 1950s, discoveries dried up and the town was abandoned. Photo: A view from the town hospital.
BODIE, California, U.S.
This town grew to as many as 10,000 residents after gold was discovered in 1859, and at its peak it reportedly had 65 saloons. Reserves dwindled and the town was nearly deserted by 1915. It was designated a state park in the 1950s; some houses remained with their furniture kept in place. Photo: The Swazey Hotel at Bodie State Historical Park.
SEWELL, Cachapoal Province, Chile
Sewell was built high in the Andes mountains in 1905 to house workers at El Teniente, at one point the world's largest underground copper mine. In the 1960s, the town had about 15,000 people, but they eventually left due to the difficult terrain. Abandoned in 1980, Sewell is now a Unesco World Heritage site. Photo: Sewell and El Teniente.
HASHIMA ISLAND, Nagasaki prefecture, Japan
Nicknamed 'Gunkanjima' (Battleship Island), this coal-mining center, established in the 1880s, was once said to be the most densely populated place on Earth. But after peaking at more than 5,000 in 1959, its population declined in the 1960s as investors lost interest in coal. The mine closed in the 1970s but reopened in 2009 for tours—and inspired scenes in the James Bond film 'Skyfall.' Photo: Ruins of the general office.
SILVERTON, New South Wales, Australia
Set in a deposit of silver, zinc and lead, Silverton took root in 1883 when a post office was built. Soon the population was about 3,000—but before the 1880s were out residents were already leaving to mine larger deposits nearby. Silverton even lost some of its buildings, moved by donkeys or camels. Today there are just a handful of structures left, along with about 50 residents. Photo: An old church at Silverton.
GILMAN, Colorado, U.S.
Sitting atop the Eagle Mine, where gold and silver were discovered in the late 1870s, followed by lead and zinc, Gilman was abandoned in the 1980s due to weak metal prices. The area was designated a Superfund clean-up site by the Environmental Protection Agency for the dangerous tailings left by the mining operations.
BARKERVILLE, British Columbia, Canada
A town rapidly sprouted here in the 1860s after a gold discovery, but after peaking at 4,600 in the middle of that decade, the population slowly declined as easy-to-find deposits were depleted. After another minor boom in the 1930s that lasted until World War II, the decline resumed, and in 1958 Barkerville was designated a heritage site, complete with people in period costumes demonstrating the history to visitors.
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Booms inevitably lead to busts... especially in an entirely centrally planned world in which we live... As Taleb noted,
It is both mis-guided and dangerous to push unobserved risks further into the statistical tails of the probability distribution of outcomes and allow these high-impact, low-probability “tail risks” to disappear from policymakers’ fields of observation.
What the world [will inevitably] witness is simply what happens when highly constrained systems explode.
As Jean-Jacques Rousseau put it, “A little bit of agitation gives motivation to the soul, and what really makes the species prosper is not peace so much as freedom.” With freedom comes some unpredictable fluctuation. This is one of life’s packages: there is no freedom without noise—and no stability without volatility.