Bounty: Do What Others Won’t? Nail Down Rent?
No one else can be bothered to calculate natural surplus exactly. Can we?
August 15, 2018
Jeffery J. Smith
Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?” “So if they won’t, should we?”

Now what? Quit or Keep At It?

As our species fouls its nest and battles with each other, a lot is at stake, for future generations, too. Hear them? Noisy posterity becomes an irritating taskmaster, insisting present people correct their economies.

Most of what afflicts us is not only misguided economics. Nor is it just politicians passing into law shortsighted policies. It’s also our narrow-minded customs regarding knowledge, math, something for nothing, etc.

Solving all that depends on addressing one obscure issue—determining how much we spend on the land and resources we use. That lone datum—once widely known—works wonders.

* Investors and savers can find better forecasts.

* More people can see how bountiful economies are and lose their poverty consciousness.

* We could unite our views of nature and real estate, balance work and play, streamline swollen governments and big businesses, and de-motivate our senseless mistreatment of one another.

The future could breathe a sigh of relief.

Can’t Count On the Counters

Those who can calculate the total won’t; no expert or official source has supplied a realistic estimate for the worth of Earth in America. That’s so even though the public has a right to know the amount and could put the knowledge to good use. Furthermore, no mainstream economist has sought to use the statistic as an economic indicator, despite it yielding accurate forecasts, and despite prediction being the essence of science.

A tyro researcher has a choice. Either adhere to science, or appeal to prejudice. Either perform the most rigorous analysis and follow the findings to wherever they lead, or follow the crowd and skirt the nature of riches.

Most float in the mainstream. That discipline stifles us, questioning our quest and methods. Their bringing up objectivity and impartiality is like people in glass houses throwing stones. Furthermore, nobody should ever have to apologize for their curiosity.

Mostly geonomists go unheard, their information remains sidelined. Such communication breakdown is maddening, what Melville’s Billy Budd felt, being mute, unable to express his thoughts and feelings. Eventually it drove him insane. Fortunately, the road to that outcome is blocked for us since this article is published.

If someone did the hard work, perhaps a solid stat for society’s spending for nature and privilege could motivate a critical mass of researchers to get real about economics, to upgrade it into geonomics. As has happened before in the realm of science, eventually, Leviathan can be turned. The old beliefs generate psychological dissonance and no longer comfort the mind. Resistance to the new paradigm is overcome and the once ridiculous becomes mainstream.

Can’t Count On the Reformers

While our problems are dire, our reformers flail about blindly. Not all of them, of course. Some do suspect that the surplus which society generates may play a role in the diagnosis of our fundamental issue and the prognosis for better days ahead. But even those few analysts are embarrassed to join the chorus demanding a tallying of rent.

If any well-intended trend is to culminate in solving pressing problems, its agents of change have to see the big picture. Part of that picture is rent, the surplus that an economy naturally and unavoidably cranks out. Who that stream rewards, and what they do to capture it, shapes the world we live in.

Environmentalists, for example, want our species to befriend Mother Earth. Yet it’s not rational of them to let land be such a fat profit-maker and expect a law that “just-says-no” to development to succeed. The planet needs profit on its side.

Ordinary citizens are moved by the bottom line, which actually favors producing what we need efficiently. To actualize that opportunity for savings, one must compare the size of the present reward for ruining the planet to the size of the gain for quitting such ruin. Then for no other reason but to save money, most would spare ecosystems.

Other activists addressing other issues, too, could more easily fry their fish if they saw rent as torrential; that makes it easier to see its role: its sources, its fluctuations, its payors and payees. Problem solvers could better see how economies work and when they don’t, what to do about it. They might advance policies that redirect rent so it’d no longer reward waste but only efficiency.

Can Count on a Gadfly

H.D. Thoreau: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” As major crises are overdue, that ratio can change. Concerned citizens may become receptive to seeing how our spending for land and resources creates problems now, perhaps solutions later. The few who grasp that are the ones who must press forward to measure the size of rent.

President Theodore Roosevelt not only endorsed the public recovery of land values (little historical footnote). The “Roughrider” also inspired his readers: “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” And when the going gets tough, the tenacious gadflies get going.

Besides, once you know rent rules, how can anyone let go of this quest? We’ll redouble our efforts, do whatever it takes, and see this through to the end. Make the round of emails and phone calls. Re-engage the data-keepers. Intertwine counters and demanders. Go over their heads. Issue a rallying cry. Let’s drill all the way down to a most serviceable number.

We may need to dream up new ways to ferret out the figure from those who either have it or have the resources for calculating it. Our novel methods must be sure to not trigger the resistance typical of the academics and bureaucrats who’re defensive of their niche. Doing all the above, we’ll unearth the worth of earth (pun intended).

Recall Bertrand Russell’s conjugation: “I am stalwart. You are stubborn. He, she, or it is pigheaded.” You can see where they slide me in, and where I place myself (stalwart). BTW, philosopher Lord Russell, the person who scored the highest ever on the entrance exam to Cambridge without ever previously going to school, eclipsed Teddy by proposing that government pay the citizenry dividends from the recovered rents of sites and resources (another historical footnote).

An Endgame Strategy

Once an intriguing figure becomes available, and specialists finally become ready, then the groundwork will have been laid for a thorough investigation of all rents, of all kinds of spending for all kinds of land and privilege. Besides all these motives, determination feels so much better than despair. Thus if on my watch things worsen drastically, it won’t be because I failed my responsibility to make rent knowable.

If it’s darkest before dawn, then how much longer before enlightenment? What could embolden the agents of change? Since humans can not help but count noses, would highlighting those already working in the field, yet unbeknownst to each other, help?

Already some cutting-edge researchers are willing and able to calculate how much society spends on the land and resources it uses. Might learning of them make idealists into realists? And do the same for economists? Also for progressive policymakers? Even if no deep-pocket foundation nor anyone else able to help is willing to, in this e-era with sites like Kickstarter, money may no longer be an obstacle. Let’s do this.

This article is Part 30 of a series highlighting the forthcoming book, “Bounty Hunter: a gadfly’s quest to know the worth of Earth,” by Jeffery J. Smith. To date, the experts have not risen to meet the challenge. Indeed, some have even stood in the way. Yet the payoff for knowing this datum is huge.

Find Out More.
Inside information on economics, society, nature, and technology.
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