The economics of Aspen’s silver era, complicated by ups and downs in prices, compares to that of the modern oil industry. Profits in each industry resembled the temperament of the little girl in the nursery rhyme: when prices were good, profits were very, very good. When prices were bad, they were horrid.

When I traveled between Aspen and Grand Junction as a child, signs along the highway advertised a future “oil shale city.” The words meant little to me, but eventually such a city, Parachute, developed. Oil shale contains countless barrels of oil. For years as a national defense strategy, oil was extracted from Colorado shale to produce jet fuel. An oil embargo that began in October 1973 sent the price of

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