All Creek, No Paddle
Is this the end of the line? Are there no more strategies for learning the worth of Earth? Has every stone been turned over?
July 9, 2016
Jeffery J. Smith

This article is part of a series by Jeffery J. Smith on the surplus—also known as “economic rent”—that exists in the economy. Currently, this surplus is hoarded; yet once shared, this surplus could generate undreamed of possibilities for the entire human population. To see the entire series, visit

The Most Powerful Opponent on the Planet

It’s not The 1% blind to land covering up the worth of Earth, it’s The 100%. Sure, The 1% throw their considerable weight around to obscure land and its profit. Yet such a result is no spectacular achievement since the other 99% are doing the same thing with their inconsiderable weight.

Yes, the 1% use everything in their formidable arsenal.

  • Propaganda—the fiction that the worth of earth plays a minor role in economies and politics, you encounter that as a commonplace rebuttal (based on what?) any time you try to draw attention to land rent as a  factor worth measuring.
  • Censorship—the stock market gets updated by the minute but anyone who tries to do that, even just daily, based on the sales and leases of sites and resources gets nowhere with either the business or the the academic press.
  • As Roger Bacon noted centuries ago, “Knowledge is power.” Hence the powerful shape knowledge. Their donations to colleges create the departments and scholarships that manufacture conventional wisdom. They own the central and lesser banks which hire the excess economists. They own the media which frame mainstream worldview.

It has gotten worse. The American Bankers Association shut down their library with its research service. Worse still, public agencies no longer collect, collate, and package stats in quasi-intelligible form but have privatized their duty, just as the US military now hires mercenaries, the Congress gave the power to issue new money to a private central bank, and states contract out penitentiaries. The formerly responsible public agencies now pay private corporations for the statistics that they should be researching themselves. So if you want to in on their secrets, you have to pay, too. That’s the killer—an enormous burden of cost placed upon a researcher or a writer.

Their Minions

Those who know don’t tell. Silence reigns. Does that mean the curious researchers are blacklisted? No. Is the exact figure for the worth of Earth a secret? Sort of. But a bigger issue is that no one in authority or academia is willing to ask, and, as usual, silence is complicity.

Those who tell don’t know. Those professionals cowed by the 1% lack a category for land, bandy about many misleading labels for the profit from locations, and make public only woefully distorted data (presumably someone's keeping the good data private for well-connected insiders). That’s when they deign to respond at all.

The specialists, like specialists everywhere—the economists, the statisticians, the bureaucrats—act out the Priesthood Syndrome. They jabber in arcane jargon impenetrable to outsiders. The hierarchy in which they rank each other excludes the uninitiated. They bear the look of one who rarely leaves the cloister. They can sense whether you belong or not.

The Masses

Finally there’s everyone else, the rest of us, the biggest group by far. Unlike those who know better about the reality of rent and tell themselves otherwise, we the hoi polloi merely assume that the worth of earth is like any other value that we seek when buying, or surrender when selling. We don’t give a thought to how much it is or how it might shape the rest of the economy.

From rich to poor, all of us hope to buy low and sell high, when it comes to land or anything else. This aim of anyone aligns with that of everyone. Focusing attention on the worth of earth could raise unwanted questions about its role in economies and polities. Whenever our assumptions about the ordinariness of land and “rents” are challenged, we respond with the human being’s typically stubborn protection of belief—denial, anger, ostracism.

Is it farfetched to imagine that a critical mass may see earth and her worth differently? In America, a majority own land and the home upon it (more precisely, owe a mortgage). Very few of us do any farming any more—about three percent of Americans—and those few are speculators who’re in competition with rich investors from cities. Further, we Yanks were raised on TV and the cowboy identity and the use of gun violence in defense of one’s petty kingdom. Such emotionalism militates against a rational inquiry into the worth of Earth and its influence upon the rest of the economy.

Any Way Out?

Given this hugely stacked debt, what could The 1% possibly have to worry about? Not much, if anything at all. People do enjoy stories about an intrepid effort to ferret out the facts, and stories about David vs. Goliath. Miracle of miracles, this series of articles may play that role. Such has happened before, but it’s a long shot.

However, the usual fate of gadflies is rejection and ridicule, even by those who’d benefit from pushing outward the frontier of knowledge.

While the status quo might relax and even celebrate, those curious about economic values and the deepest workings of economies have reached an impasse. If one relies on optimism to keep digging deeper, it has gotten nigh impossible to lift the shovel one more time. The only glimmer of hope is that the difficult is not the impossible. It’s only very, very difficult.

It seems that the silencers, have won. The gatekeepers of knowledge seem as impregnable as everyone had said, so many articles ago. And those who’re not interested, who turn a blind eye, really don’t know any better.

Yet it’s hard to wash our hands of this project. In for a penny, in for a pound, eh? Our society suffers no lack of young idealists; may one make this investigation their own. Pass the torch to another standard bearer who’ll shed light on buried data and finally make that magic number—the worth of Earth—known and available to anyone intending to take prudent steps with their savings or public policy.

This article is part of a series by Jeffery J. Smith on the surplus—also known as “economic rent”—that exists in the economy. Currently, this surplus is hoarded; yet once shared, this surplus could generate undreamed of possibilities for the entire human population. To see the entire series, visit

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Jeffery J. Smith

JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at