“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 U.S. 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 was a shining star. In my case, he introduced my work to Latin America.
Guillermo M. Yeatts (1937–2018) 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 (FEE), the Institute for Energy Research (IER), the Atlas Society, and Fundación Atlas 1853.
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 mineral-rights section (Chapter 2) of my Oil, Gas, and Government: The US Experience (Cato: 1996) and invited me to write the foreword for what became Subsurface Wealth: The Struggle for Privatization in Argentina (FEE: 1997).
I wrote in part:
[There is] a general economic maxim: public 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.
Yeatts then invited me 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 Studies, University of Belgrano, “Seminar on U.S. Oil and Gas Property Rights.” All this was part of his effort to educate and spur property reform at the local level. He came close in one political jurisdiction, I am told, but his vision remains for the future.
I became fast friends with the debonair Billy Yeatts. I was flattered by the rare opportunity to lecture abroad 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 at the time, IER.
Yeatts and I stayed in touch, but he was always scrambling as a legitimate entrepreneur to win profits in a statist, lackluster economy.
In August 2018, Billy called me about the possibility of working again on subsoil privatization scholarship for his side of the world. He was arranging a debate that Fall and wanted to commission a paper from me as well.
He then wrote an email a week or two later to report that a worsening situation in Argentina 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 greater mineral wealth.
For the Future
The major international energy issue should not be climate change. It should be, per Guillermo M. Yeatts, privatization of subsurface mineral rights to benefit the mass of surface owners and would-be entrepreneurs in Mexico, Venezuela, the Argentine Republic, and many other nations ’round the world.
When that time comes, may Yeatts be remembered as the father of a great idea. May a statue in Buenos Aires be erected in his honor. Ideas have consequences, and his time will surely come.
Appendix A: Guillermo M. Yeatts
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).
Appendix B: Last Communication (8-3-2018)
I am sorry I did not get back to you yesterday morning but a huge scandal of the Peronista corruption machinery (10 high officials 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.