Diamonds Are Forever? Not Even Close

12/22/2012 11:36 am ET | Updated Feb 21, 2013

The diamond industry is one of the world's most loathsome operations simply because it exploits the most impoverished lands and people for a quick first-world buck. These gems that we're all so used to seeing promoted, especially during the holiday season, are no more than sparkly liabilities when it comes to a system's long-term economic outlook.

Botswana, well known for their diamond industry (which was even supported by Kim Kardashian a while back), is now experiencing a setback despite its relatively positive deal with DeBeers back in the 1960s. Under their agreement, the Botswana government would split a 50/50 joint venture with DeBeers rather than simply taxing them on their revenues. Botswana quickly became the world's leader of diamond production and is now the source of over one fifth of our world's diamonds.

When such a lucrative industry embeds itself in an otherwise impoverished backdrop, the involved parties have no choice but to scramble in a gold rush-paced growth rate. There was nothing seemingly wrong with this scenario until observers began to realize that Botswana's diamond resources were quickly running out. Now it's undeniable -- the industry is expected to dry up within 20 years, prompting President Seretse Khama to address this issue in his recent State of the Union.

But why should we care? Well, it's pretty obvious that the typical Botswanian isn't the average customer for diamonds, even though these stones came out of their own backyards, so to speak. DeBeers knew what it was doing when it descended upon the undeveloped region decades ago. As long as people of means continue to desire these ethically-questionable objects, those at the source don't have much of a future beyond the industry's scope. Despite the fact that the diamond industry has given way to many local jobs over the years, that same industry will move on when it has depleted all of its resources.

So for Botswana's diamond industry, we've got about twenty years to go. It is urgent to figure out how Botswana will wean themselves off this enterprise, hopefully paving the way for other diamond-focused economies to follow its lead. And even more importantly, it's about time for first-world consumers to realize that diamonds represent an archaic tradition that we no longer need to perpetuate in future generations.