With the Help of Leaders
We have elected politicians to serve us. Here's chance to ask them to do their job in a very big way.
April 18, 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 Progress.org/Counting-Surplus

Right Up Their Alley?

A lone taxpayer lacks the clout to direct official statisticians to calculate the worth of Earth in America. Those public servants in the public counting houses do not serve the public when it comes to answering basic questions. Whom do they serve? is anyone’s guess. Investors maybe? Or is the whole purpose of cranking out reams of numbers of little utility merely to create a smokescreen? To present figures that are incompressible and irrelevant simply to create the impression that those figures are what matter and deciphering them is better left to the experts? I would not be surprised.

One behavior of the number crunchers does encourage me. They are constantly redefining their terms, and parsing the numbers they do collect in different ways. So if they make changes to suit some other constituency, perhaps they can make changes to suit geonomists?

The answer would be of great import to everyone. All those rents would tell us what phase the business cycle is in—good to know if you want to keep your savings or investments safe. And they’d tell us how bountiful our economy has been lately, just in case society wanted to pull a Singapore and cut taxes on our efforts and tap into socially generated value of locations.

Go Over Their Heads

So far, when push comes to shove, the government economists have had no trouble ignoring geonomists, but we geonomists can go over their heads. The ones whom they ignore at their own peril are those who vote on their share of the federal budget—our elected officials. As they say, follow the money, in this case the salaries of public servants, from taxpayers, through Congress, to monthly paychecks for bureaucrats.

While elected public officials often are about as helpful as the unelected public officials, sometimes, actually, they are more so. To remain in their cushy jobs, they must get re-elected. When the stars are in alignment—when an election is coming up—incumbent candidates will sometimes heed the wishes of voters. Hope is rekindled. We’ll show the bureaucrats who’s boss.

When a member of Congress asks a bureaucrat for an answer, the bureaucrat feels enough heat to generate some light. In this case, they'd use all the considerable resources of the bureaucracy to tabulate all the money we as a society spend on all the nature we use, on the sites and resources. Even if a citizen can't do it, for the congressperson it’d be like waving a magic wand.

Same Ol’, Same Ol’

Asking officer holders to ask bureaucrats for an answer runs into the same obstacles of asking bureaucrats directly. The politicians—or the staff person who handles incoming mail—has a radically different worldview. They don’t see what’s the big deal about knowing the size of all rents. Plus, like everybody else, they’re busy. And who is one lowly voter when they have several well-placed donors to placate?

Usually all you get back is a form letter. It’s a crushing defeat, dashing the buoyancy of hope on the rocks of political reality. But there’s no quit in us.

One letter didn’t do the trick but many would. One thing all politicians do is count noses. If they receive a batch of mail on one topic, they take action.

Sample Letter

So, dear readers, help win the data that’s going to wow people and open eyes. Write your representative and two senators. Here’s a sample letter you can use and a link for locating your elected officials. Paper mail is more effective than email but do what you can. Great enterprises begin with simple steps.

* * *

re:  Official Figure for Land & Resources

Hon. [congress person];

Given your clout with federal bureaucracies, you could be of immense help to the electorate. There are data that tell us what phase the business cycle is in (decades ago Hoyt discovered the 18-yr land-price cycle). Those same statistics also tell us how much surplus our economy is generating.

The surplus is our spending for land and resources and other assets not created by anyone’s labor or capital. During the Civil War, the US included land values in the tax base. Today, Singapore recovers the socially generated value of locations and prospers more than the US, doing so well it pays its citizens dividends.

Even if the US forgoes these “rents” (technically), it could encourage states to levy a tax or charge a land use fee or institute land dues to direct this common wealth into the public treasury.

Even if states and local governments forgo this opportunity to tap natural values and remove the tax burden on our labor and capital, our just knowing the aggregate value of nature in use benefits us, helping us keep our savings and investments safe.

At your disposal you have the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Library of Congress, among others. In the past, economists in such public agencies have taken a stab at coming up with the correct answer. They can do so again, hearing from you.

How much we spend for nature can be derived many sources including mortgages, property taxes paid, certain insurances, assessments, appraisals, for all uses, not just residential, but also commercial, industrial, agricultural, sylvan, mineral, fossil fuels, the EM spectrum, and not just private land but also nonprofit and public land, including roadways and water. We’re talking trillions here so we need to know this stat.

If your bureaucrats balk, we can tabulate the total, once supported by a fair contract. If you have any questions, please ask. Feel free to use any of the language in this letter or to draft your own. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thanks sincerely,

* * *

Watch What Happens

Here’s the link to find your federal reps. Let’s see if we can reach a critical mass. Even if not, at least will plant seeds that will bear fruits in ways we can not expect.

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

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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 Progress.org. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at Progress.org.