Bounty: Firms Offer a Rent Total—For a Price
Money talks but can it also add up a sum for the worth of Earth in America?
September 19, 2018
Jeffery J. Smith
“Pay the piper, call the tune; but will it be melodious?”

Answers For Sale

Astronomer Carl Sagan’s book, later movie, Contact, got NASA to finally fund SETI. (BTW, signals from outer space are also ignored, just like sightings of land value, so the chapters of this book are in good, celestial company). If it becomes as successful Sagan’s, this book (maybe later a documentary), could get agencies and foundations to fund the determining of a new indicator—the worth of Earth in America.

Some well-connected companies—self-described experts at tabulating—do sell measurements. They claim the ability to calculate whatever feature of an economy or demography that a buyer could want. So, that includes figuring out the value of land and resources? And provides a total more precise than our current ballpark figure?

Firms like Case-Shiller, CoStar, and Statista are as reliable a source as anyone in the mainstream could want. Case-Shiller are cited all through the business press, CoStar sells to the Federal Reserve, and Statista draws from over 20,000 sources. The three offer to sell the total value of US residential real estate, and property values in general—more than we want.

With their ability, they may also be able to determine just the well-cloaked land portion of real estate. And they may be able to tack on the value of land used for purposes other than residential or commercial or industrial: i.e., agricultural, pastural, sylvan, mineral, and spectral (the airwaves), and other resources, such as water. Asking them to figure in the value of anything else natural may be asking too much.

Whatever they’ll do for you, they’ll do for a price—affordable or not.

Money Makes the Ground Get Counted

Good data costs big bucks. That’s one good way to keep the curious ignorant—raise the price for knowledge. For a researcher or a writer conducting a labor of love, that cost is an out-of-pocket expense from not-so-deep pockets.

Who besides a gadfly researcher will pony up? Presently, the specialists who suspect the relevance of rent won’t invest their talents (Ch 25). Those who could afford the investigation don’t sense the relevance.

Even the generous who’re interested in economics, just like the rest of humanity, they have a hard time seeing the relevance of rent. One spending stream can’t be that significant, can it? What’s the big deal about rewarding producers of goods and services versus rewarding owners of never-produced land and resources?

Lots. With reliable figures, then everyone could forecast the business cycle and measure the robustness of the economy. Also, if anyone’s thinking of mimicking the Alaska dividend model, they’d see how much the grand sum works out per capita.

Further, they can imagine how much more it’d be if the environment were cleansed. It’d be the value of land suffering from toxins, fever, and chills. Lose the pollution, then how much would this green planet be worth?

Raising Funds

Given the millions of human minds and the diversity of human interests, some individuals and foundations do get it—the geonomic (Earth-focused economics) ones. The activist group Common Ground USA comes to mind as do two New York-based foundations: Henry George School and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Even this writer has on occasion been funded by them to research rents.

In the NGO world, the above are small fry. But there are well-heeled sources to target:

  • foundations with deep pockets set up to benefit the public by giving grants to enable the necessary research that no one else is doing,
  • organizations with large memberships who respond to special appeals, and
  • well-heeled individuals known to donate to worthy causes.

In the era of modern social media, millions on the cutting edge are sympathetic to crowdfunding appeals in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, et al. At some of these sites, it takes money to make money—they charge fees. At all of them, it takes time to learn the ropes.

Fortunately, some humans are curious enough to know the worth of Earth to give money to a stranger to find it out. A critical mass wants to know how much they and all their fellow citizens spend to own or use a location or natural resource or government-granted privilege. Plus, they could claim credit for launching a new and better indicator. And for making it safe for funders and researchers to climb aboard the rent train.

Money in hand, one could hire the pro statistician. Yet needing to turn to a for-profit corporation raises the question: why should we have the responsible public agency? Why pay those huge staffs in public agencies just so they can pay huge staffs in private agencies? If a public agency won’t perform its fiscal duty, why not abolish it and save the public money? An agency fulfilling its mandate—is that something to lobby for?

This article is Part 34 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.

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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