Frontier Capitalism on Discovery Channel
I recently came across a television series on the Discovery Channel called Jungle Gold. In a nutshell, it’s about these two mid-thirtyish Utah real estate speculators who lost all of their money and then decided to go to Ghana to dig for gold. If you are looking for gold these days Ghana is still one of the best places on earth to do it in. It’s the Saudi Arabia of the metal, from what I hear.
Being broke, the two protagonists, Scott Lomu and George Wright, raise some seed capital from investors back home to fund their expedition and the excavators and other heavy equipment they will need. In the very first episode upon arriving at the acreage they’ve leased to mine, they discover that the Chinese are already mining it. Not only that but the Chinese have grim-looking armed guards staring the duo down. So they high-tail it back to town to appeal to the tribal chiefs for help. The old guys are surprisingly sympathetic to their plight but explain that since the Chinese have far more fire power than they do, there’s nothing to be done about it but go dig elsewhere.
The guys then quickly lease another spot from an American who appears to be a master franchisor for such plots. I suppose the tribes subcontract this administrative work out to pros.
The series then quickly ramps up to this relentless 24 like pace in which there is absolutely no let up. (Personally speaking, I found 24 very annoying for this very reason and jettisoned it after the first season. It was just too implausible for my tastes.) Every few minutes there is a new crisis to contend with. A huge excavator breaks down in the middle of the jungle and must be replaced. Locals block the roads through their villages to extort fees for passage. Winds knock over trees alternatively trapping either Scott or George underneath. Just when you think that things couldn’t get any worse, they do. The boys start running out of money! What to do?! Well, forget about digging for gold. That takes too long. Let’s take our last remaining cash and try some arbitrage. We’ll stuff $20K into our pockets and go meet a local war lord or mafioso type to buy gold at cheap local prices and then flip it to Westerners for a quick profit. What could possibly go wrong? I don’t want to spoil it for you but let’s just say that these brainstorms don’t go as planned.
Finally, the two Americans have to work with an antagonistic British director and film crew whose only goal appears to be to create as much drama as possible in every episode even if it means putting the boys’ lives in dangerous. Or so the editing makes it seem. Actually a lot of viewers suspect that the series is actually heavily scripted to replicate that never-ending 24 style drama. They could be right.
Still, it’s the only television show that I can think of that deals with frontier capitalism. I may watch a few more episodes.
I’d love to have a similar show set in Mongolia with its current resource boom.
Speaking of Mongolia, I finally recalled which is the best of the recent Genghis Khan films. It’s the 2007 version directed by Sergei Bodrov and simply titled Mongol.
Greatness comes to those who take it.