Mineral Privatization for the Masses: Remembering Guillermo Yeatts (1937–2018)

“The major international energy issue should not be climate change. It should be, per Guillermo M. Yeatts, country-by-country privatization of subsurface mineral rights to benefit the mass of surface owners and would-be entrepreneurs.”

He was a true friend of private property, free markets, the rule of law, and goodwill for all. He was a successful entrepreneur in the US and Latin America. He was a thinker and doer, building up an intellectual case for public policy reform and acting on it. And for a lot of us, he made classical liberalism more fun.

Guillermo M. Yeatts recently died just short of his 81st birthday. Born in Buenos Aires, he studied in America and successively rose in business in the US and in Argentina (see Appendix A). As he advanced, he embraced classical liberal think tanks at home and abroad, including the Foundation for Economic Education, the Institute for Energy Research, the Atlas Society, and Fundación Atlas 1853.

Meeting Yeatts

In 1996, I received a phone call from an enthusiastic gentleman planning to publish an English edition of his primer, El Robo Del Subsuelo. Billy Yeatts, as he preferred to be called, had read the chapters of Oil, Gas, and Government: The US Experience on mineral rights and invited me to write the foreword for what became Subsurface Wealth: The Struggle for Privatization in Argentina (Foundation for Economic Education: 1997). I wrote in part:

[There is] a general economic maxim: public [government] resources are really private, owned and exploited by a political elite, while private resources are really public, owned and managed by a multitude. Government-owned resources do not “belong to all of the people” and allow “self determination;” they belong to none or a very few.

Next came an invitation from Yeatts to come to Buenos Aires for a conference on this subject. My presentation in April 1997, “Private Subsoil Rights for Public Good: The U.S. Oil and Gas Experience,” was published in Propiedad del Subsuelo y Privatizacion en America Latina (FEEL: 1997). Six months later, I again visited Buenos Aires to give a talk to the Center for International StudiesUniversity of Belgrano, “Seminar on U.S. Oil and Gas Property Rights.”

I became fast friends with the quite debonnaire Billy Yeatts. I was flattered by the rare opportunity to venture abroad to lecture and visit his private estate (replete with a polo field). Yeatts gave me a new business card (!), Director, Fundacion de Estudios Energeticos Latinamericanos, and he joined the board of directors of my small nonprofit, the Institute for Energy Research.

Last Communications

Back in August, Billy called me about the possibility of working again on subsoil privatization scholarship for his side of the world. He then wrote an email a week or two later to report that a worsening situation in Argentina had put the project on hold. (His last communication to me is in Appendix B.)

Until the very end, he was thinking-and-doing for his cherished goal of expanding private property rights from the surface to the subsurface to democratize wealth and create market incentives to produce mineral wealth.

For the Future

The major international energy issue should not be climate change. It should be, per Guillermo M. Yeatts, country-by-country privatization of subsurface mineral rights to benefit the mass of surface owners and would-be entrepreneurs. When that time comes, may Billy Yeatts be remembered as the father of a great idea. Ideas have consequences, and his time will surely come.

———————————–

Appendix A

Education:

  • New York University, BS, MS in Economics
  • Harvard Graduate Business School Program
  • Honorary doctorate of philosophy, Universidad Francisco Marroquín

Business positions:

  • Accountant, Citibank (National Association), New York City, 1960-1966
  • Supervisor, cash management, Ford Motor Argentina S.A., Buenos Aires, 1966-1967
  • Manager, banking & credit department; Manager, special projects, Ford Motor Argentina S.A., 1967-1968;
  • General manager and director, Ford Financiera S. A., Buenos Aires, 1969
  • Senior finance analyst for Latin American operations, Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan, 1969-1970
  • International finance manager, Atlantic Richfield Company. New York City, 1971-1972
  • Director, finance; President and general manager, Massey-Ferguson Argentina S.A., Buenos Aires, 1972-1978
  • President, Austrofueguina Oil Holding, Buenos Aires, 1979–
  • President Cadesa, Buenos Aires, 1980-1990
  • Vice president Sol Petroleo SA, Buenos Aires. President Phoebus Energy Ltd., Bermuda.

His energy career centered around SOL Petroleo S.A. (refining and marketing); Diamond Shamrock Boliviana S.A. (Bolivia; exploration and production of crude oil and gas); Cadesa S.A. (Tierra del Fuego; petroleum drilling); and Joss S.A. (Buenos Aires; petroleum transportation).

An interview with Yeatts on his business career can be found here. A tribute to Yeatts in Spanish can be found here.

Appendix B

Dear Robert

I am sorry i did not get back to you yesterday morning but a huge scandal of the Peronista corruption machinery (10 high official arrested) hit the press which will have strong  influence over what is discussed in future conferences,

Today we are faced with a severe economic and financial crisis which the present government hesitates to cut expenditures because Peronistas control 60% votes ( they are divided in 3 main blocks). The cut in expenditures are subsidies mainly to working class and unions.  The IMF has granted Argentina $ 50,000 million in loans to clean up the corruption inherited from the Peronista administration during the 12 years of administration  but many in the present administration are reluctant to take this step.

I will keep you in touch with the outcome.

Best regards

Billy

 

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December 13, 2018 at 01:07AM

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