The Answer to the Salt Riddle

If you did not get a chance to read the previous entry about salt and its historical importance, read it here.
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The answer after the break.

The question was two parts, 1) What commodity today is most like salt was in historical times in its paramount importance? and 2) What will soon be the rare commodity in the world that will have a great effect on global politics and business?

My answer to part one:  One reader brought up phosphor.  Although it commands a high price because of its relative scarcity, it also does not have the universal importance that salt had and still has.  It has, in fact, many everyday applications, but we do not see wars fought over phosphor reserves.

maciej, you were right!  The real answer is oil!  Oil runs the world and has myriad applications in everything from fuel to plastics.  No one questions the importance of this black gold.  Turn on the news any day and you will see something relating to this substance of modern importance.  Yahoo! News has a whole section dedicated to Oil and Gas News.  Fortunes are made, wars are fought, territory is disputed, political and military decisions are made, and business deals are contracted all over petroleum.

My answer to part two:  maciej, you were right again!  In the next century or so, experts predict the next scarce resource will be drinking water!  Already 40% of the world population has no access to clean drinking water.  That number will only increase as world population skyrockets, development spreads and demand consequently increases, and water becomes more and more valuable.  Water has caused conflict in recent international relations incidents and that will continue to be the norm.  As there becomes a water shortage, there may be wars over water.  Countries will have to start taking into account their water resources when making decisions.  Certain organizations are trying to help ameliorate the problem.

Some have suggested assigning water rights instead of treating rivers and streams as free resources such as air.  Does this mean a whole new industry managing these rights?  What will the effect of water shortage be on international business in general?  Are we all in for a Malthusian nightmare?  Or will technology develop to help us past this crisis (and what will the business surrounding that technology look like?)?

You must have an opinion of some of this…so COMMENT!!

Some Quick Thoughts on Salt

In ancient Hebrew and Arabic, the words for war and peace derive from the words for salt and bread.  It is well known salt was incredibly important in the pre-modern world.  Roman soldiers jealously guarded the salt fields near Palestine and controlled the caravan routes that brought this commodity westward.  In fact, Roman soldiers were partially paid in salt which is where we get the word ‘soldier’ from the Latin sal dare (to give salt) and the word ‘salary.’  In the Middle Ages, nations such as England built their foreign policies around the imperative of securing southern sea-salt supplies.  The phrase “to be worth one’s salt” and the compliment “salt of the earth” arose out of the high value of salt.

Of course in modern times, though it is still incredibly important, salt is substantially cheaper because of its abundant supply.   My question is: What commodity today has such importance and high value in day to day life?  There is an obvious answer.  But there is also another resource that may be in short supply sooner than we think that could drastically affect the global economy…Comment with your guesses and thoughts!

Read the answer here