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 Progress.org/Counting-Surplus

Inheritance

In the attic you discover a family heirloom you never knew you had and wonder how much it’s worth. The local jeweler quotes a price that seems way too low. Other experts appraise it higher, but not much, so you part with it. Curious, though, you keep tabs on the precious gem. Turns out later a socialite buys it for much more. Then a collector purchases it for one heck of a lot more. Finally it arrives in a museum showcase—invaluable. You don’t have to kick yourself because your children are doing that for you. It was going to be their inheritance, their ticket to a better life.

You can never get it back, but society can reclaim its lost heritage. Nobody now is trying to, but nobody knows how valuable that heritage is. If only they knew what they were missing, then they’d demand a reckoning. Then the next generation could inherit the means to a higher standard of living. Imagine how grateful they’d be.

From the future, the unborn can call for an accounting. That plea can stand in for the muted voice of the unconscious, albeit deserving, members of today’s silent society. If or when tiring of the struggle to ferret out that one basic stat—the worth of Earth—just hear the future Earthlings.

Down In the Dumps

Without much encouragement or interest or demand, it’s easy to see how one could quit. The experts don’t want to know. The would-be beneficiaries don’t have a clue. The one’s capturing the raw data don’t offer an ounce of help. It’s a lonely pursuit without much in the way of realtime rewards.

And how is a regular Jane or Joe to carry off the tally? Wouldn’t the job take more than basic arithmetic and algebra? And in lieu of insider contacts, a winning salesman personality? And even if one could figure out the local worth of Earth, would anyone listen? Would anyone care? What good would be the information if you couldn’t get it out to a receptive audience?

When the struggle seems impossible, noisy posterity becomes an irritating taskmaster.

Whispering Future, Muted Past

And the past is silent, too. There is no heritage of knowing Earth’s worth, no intellectual lineage of keeping track of society’s spending on nature, and scarce treatment of rent as commonwealth. Hence, there is no standard to live up to, no pressure to maintain any tradition of recording surplus.

Actually, long ago, early governments used to measure and record harvests. These notches in clay or marks on papyrus are what became both our numbers and our letters. That’s a huge contribution to civilization by the quest to know Earth’s worth—it's the root of literacy and mathematics.

At least not in the recent past. Actually, long ago, early governments used to measure and record harvests. They did so not just to tax farmers but also to allot the best plots to the best farmers and, of course, to distribute stored up grains across society, to all its members. These records were humankind’s first. These notches in clay or marks on papyrus are what became both our numbers and our letters. That’s a huge contribution to civilization by the quest to know Earth’s worth—it's the root of literacy and mathematics.

Such accomplishments aside, imagine if government had never quit recording the rental potential of each location? Now however, with no recent precedents, one must be a pathbreaker; the Domesday Book of England (1086) may have been the last organized attempt. Yet in an era indifferent to topics like anthropology, history, and statistics, if people ask anything it’s,“what has the quest to know rent done for me lately?”

Recognized by Rip-offs?

Actually, it’s not as bad as all that. There are a few exceptions, living and breathing, who’d like to see somebody add up all the natural values. Some wayward economists. Some starry-eyed statisticians. Some cutting-edge reformers. They do not form a chorus nor do much to egg on any researcher. But they can imagine the implications. If the worth of Earth in a region were known, and since that spending stream is what drives the business cycle, then—putting two and two together—an observer could predict the booms and busts with impressive accuracy. One could make economics into a science at last. One might even be short-listed for a “Nobel” prize. Such fame and fortune—that could keep one in the hunt for the final tally on all the rents in one’s economy.

However, probably nobody now sitting on the committee that hands out the ersatz “Nobel” prize would care to laureate a calculator of rental surplus. That fat prize is funded by global bankers and if anybody wants to keep the rest of humanity in the dark re Earth’s worth it’s the people mainlining mortgages, not to mention dodging resource royalties.

That Oslo prize they fund is actually not a “Nobel” but a counterfeit. Alfred himself left no money for economics, a field held in such low esteem back then by real scientists. And his descendants have asked the bankers funding the false prize to quit using their family name. Just like Levi’s complains when some fly-by-night clothier slaps the Levi’s label on counterfeit jeans, we complain when central bankers slap the Nobel family name on their favorite economist du jour.

Recognized by Cognoscenti

To keep one plugging away, perhaps there could be a short-term reward. By definition, there is no present long-term reward. As a whole, society is not yet benefiting from the stream of rent and officialdom is not yet tabulating all rents. Yet a struggling investigator might at least be recognized for their efforts.

A researcher need not miss out on all the glory. There is the “alternative Nobel”, the Right Livelihood Prize. That affinity group awarding it might sit up and take notice of the effort to measure all natural assets. Especially if any researcher could gain an audience, a body of watchers, like the gallery of fans cheering on the cyclists in the Tour de France.

For that to happen, geonomists must keep in the mix, stay part of the conversation about new policies needed to make a better world. How can investigators make their incremental progress matter to society’s agents of change? By utilizing creativity. And by staying persistent. By letting the demand of the future be the driving force behind never quitting the quest to know how much our society spends on the nature it uses.

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 Progress.org/Counting-Surplus

© Text Copyright Jeffery J. Smith rights reserved.
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