Interviews

Bill Carter Talks Copper and His Book, Boom, Boom, Bust

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So given how important and integrated copper is in everything and how we operate, why do you think we're so uneducated when it comes to the industry as a whole? I don't know. Gold gets all the glamour. Gold's the bling; gold is the thing, and everybody wants to know what the price of gold is, but gold is really useless on an industrial level, [and for] everyday use for all of us around the world, it's really just an ornament. Whereas copper, it's the workhorse, along with things like aluminum and zinc, and we don't know anything about them. I think if you were to go back in time a 100 years, copper was king. It tended to be the base of so much of the wealthy families, what really ran the United States was copper. And, if you kind of look, it became industrial and it disappeared, unless you're regionally attached to it. It's like cars, we don't care about them in California or Arizona or Oregon, because we don't make them. But Detroit has more history with it. So I think copper went dark at some point. It's hidden. Gold is our rings and it's part of our ceremony, but copper is behind your walls, in your sink, hidden inside your computer, hidden inside your phone. You don't really see copper. You know there's obviously some things that people use copper for: cooking pots, or things like that. But it's really a hidden metal for most of us.

What were your first steps and how did you go about your research initially? Oh, it's a monster, a huge thing to look into. It's a little bit like looking into oil. Who are the biggest copper companies? Who are they, who owns them, what's their histories? And then you go from one of them to the next, and you can write a book on each one of them. And then you start to go, well, where does copper really come from, and you start to get into that. It's a huge, overwhelming amount of information. I spent probably a year just researching, reading, thinking about the connections between these things, what avenue am I gonna take to get a story out of this. So that's how I kind of started, and then I started to take trips, and that kind of leads to its own research in the interviews.

What was the biggest surprise or shock that you learned about/uncovered through your research? Well two things, one is I had no idea copper was so pervasive in our lives. It's basically the metal that makes the modern world run, in some ways. . . Copper really is the thing that makes us, high-technology-wise, able to run like we do. So that was really interesting to me. Who were the players in copper was fascinating to me, both historically and modern-day. The big companies, how they were started, how they were founded, like Anglo American, or Freeport [McMoRan], these companies that really run the show, who are they, which families run them. And it seems like [with] the Guggenheims, nobody really knows where the money for the Guggenheims came from, we all just know their art philanthropy in New York or Venice, but the Guggenheims were like the biggest players in the copper world until about 50 years ago.

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Darryle Royal
Contact: Darryle Royal