Military Test Site Scrappers: Breaking Bad Meets American Pickers

October 11th, 2012

The pricing mechanism of the free market is one of the most powerful technological resources available to humanity. It sends crucial signals to enterprising people, offering them lucrative opportunities in return for satisfying human needs. In so doing, it helps humankind, as a collective, achieve the maximum possible utility of a variety of different resources. However, the means through which this is accomplished is not well understood.

Some people are compelled via the pricing mechanism of the marketplace to do necessary but outrageous things. For example, the US military operates bombing test sites in the deserts of NV, CA, NM, and AZ wherein tanks, cars, jeeps, and other decommissioned vehicles are blown up by pilots on training missions. The scrap vehicles and unexploded bombs would be left laying in the desert for years were it not for scrappers who sneak in and strip and sell the raw materials. Despite the fact that they could be killed by an unexploded bomb or another test bombing, they fearlessly press on in their pursuit of raw materials, drawn in by the lure of fast money. Their example proves that the efficiency of the free market’s utilization of natural resources is beyond human understanding, and that governments should be careful not to tamper with the economy.

Breaking Bad Meets American Pickers

Military test site scrappers are not your typical junk yard workers. They often live in the desert in poor, meth-addled communities. They are hardcore thrill seekers who risk their lives for quick cash. Every trip into the testing zone is a life or death mission, as unknowing fighter pilots could unload ordinance at any time on the vehicles the scrappers are stripping clean. Additionally, some scrappers will actually pick up live, unexploded bombs.

However, scrappers are willing to face the danger due to the high value of the abandoned raw materials. In this way, the market offers an incentive to those who would clean up the environment by putting these raw materials back into the economy. With regard to military testing sites, the government has been unwilling to clean up after itself, so the market naturally solves this problem through its pricing mechanism.

Solving a Logistics Nightmare

Due to the vast size of military testing sites, it would be extraordinarily expensive to encircle them with fences and have them professionally cleaned. Despite the fact that classified, unexploded bombs even may fall in these areas, little to no effort is taken to restore the desert to its original condition and clean up the resulting mess. For the time being, scrappers are solving this problem for mankind.

No matter where the government decides to test bombs and missiles, scrappers will inevitably appear to cash in on the leftover mess. There is no organization out there hiring people to do this — it just happens. The pricing mechanism of the market motivates human action in this way. When something is worth enough, a certain type of person will find out and pursue it. The below video, from a trailer for a documentary on scrappers, demonstrates some of the risks these folks face each day.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.