Curious About Earth’s Worth? Pay Up!
One way to keep the curious ignorant is to raise the price for knowledge—until demand overwhelms gatekeepers.
July 27, 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

Pay Twice, Tax & Price

We’re used to the gatekeepers of knowledge not having an answer for the worth of Earth, not moving forward and tabulating an answer, not giving adequate explanations or sometimes any answer at all, and demanding credentials or becoming aloof upon learning one lacks the conventional initials after one’s name. Yet there’s a new twist on this old problem. Now public agencies no longer collect, collate, and package stats in quasi-intelligible form but have privatized their duty.

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, as do they. That’s the killer—an enormous burden of cost placed upon a researcher or a writer.

So why should we have the 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?

Anti-Government Sentiment

Contracting out the collating of statistics is part of a larger trend of outsourcing by public agencies: states contract out penitentiaries, the US military now hires mercenaries, and the US Congress gave the power to issue new money to a private central bank. During their last session (2016 spring), the Senate and House of Representatives debated privatizing the Federal Aviation Agency. Media commentators proposed selling off the TSA and the Post Office.

Such privatizing squares nicely with the philosophy of citizens greatly aggravated with politicians and bureaucrats (represented by Trump). These voters want to privatize everything. There’d be so little government left they could “drown it in a bathtub”, as a deceased TV actor said (may he RIP). Another “out-there” line by a prominent politician of that era, the 1980s, was, “there is no society” (may she RIP). To political people of that stripe, anything public, even a sidewalk, or anything held in common, like beach access, was anathema.

Well-meaning, decent people who equate government with social cooperation, and or need their government jobs, see anti-governmentism as anti-social madness, perhaps because they’ve never been mistreated. Yet the state does sometimes oversteps its bounds:

  • the IRS hounding people who owe nothing into bankruptcy
  • a neighborhood losing its very existence to a city-backed developer
  • a judge with “black robe disease” finding innocents in contempt of court.

Some, calling themselves patriots, have had enough.

Meanwhile, they’re getting more. Government has not been withering away but expanding. Contracting out the jobs government was set up to do has not shrunk government; it just keeps growing, whether beneficially or not.

If it weren’t so user-unfriendly, probably government would not be so unpopular with many people.

Beware of Getting What You Want

Usually those who’re against government talk about eliminating social spending for the poor, not welfare for the rich. They argue that private charity could fill the gap, as churches and unions did in the past. Actually, people are generous. But then who’d tally the rents? Cutting out the social half of government (and leaving only the military / law-and-order half) would leave us geonomists with no agency to pester for numbers.

Ironically, those who oppose government never, to my knowledge, demand the downsizing of the police. Or of the military. However, if government lacked the force of arms, it’d hardly matter what laws they passed or what rulings judges gave or what fines the IRS levied. They’d have no way to enforce them.

Nor would government be able to enforce one’s rights. In a world with a toothless state, some envision Hobbe’s war of all against all, similar to the fictional account of castaway boys in The Lord of Flies. Such a consequence would be an ironic payback to those regular Joes who pushed for privatization and performed as apologists for the elite.

A Plot of the Elite?

One huge blind spot in the worldview of anti-governmentarians is their belief that the state and the elite are separate entities. Only on the surface. And even there, the elite and state cell-divided only a few centuries ago. The slogan of “government for the people, by the people, of the people” is quite modern and true more in word than deed. Who gets laws passed? Who gets to violate them with impunity? Who gets bailed out? Who gets a foreign policy serving their interests? Who contributes the most to campaigns, foundations, universities?

Since power corrupts, it’s not paranoid to wonder if some faction of the ruling elite had a hand in the American Bankers Association shutting down their library and no longer providing research for the public, and in the Federal Reserve not tabulating useful figures but instead directing inquiries to a private corporation selling the data. Surely some of the elite want even more wealth and power, even at the expense of democracy and broad prosperity. If other factions within the elite do not hold them in check, is a two-class society in store for America? Along the lines of George Orwell’s 1984?

Or have have wannabe masters of the universe (as some Wall Street speculators dubbed themselves) over-played their hand? Hardly. Popular resistance seems more futile than effective, so them being over confident would be rational, if such an elite faction exists.

A dismal future could be in the cards even without an elite conspiracy; it could be the nature of democracies to devolve back into aristocracies.

Or, OTOH, it’s not democracy that’s unstable but hierarchy, when there’s a huge gap between rulers and everyone else. The century-old line of crusaders quoted by Martin Luther King—“The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice”—could be true. Oppression could not withstand the right combination of vision, values, and valiant leadership.

Intertwining Interests

If everyone has a piece of the truth, perhaps it’d take a merger of present disparate elements, all of whom are fed up with the way things are. For example, most of the downsizers call themselves libertarian. And some libertarians call themselves geo-libertarian. While both claim classical liberalism as their intellectual lineage, it’s only the latter who accurately wear the badge. Their heroes—Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine—stated that spending for land is something that all members of society would be better off sharing.

Even without such a broadband alliance to reform government, it should be possible to determine and broadcast how much we all spend on the nature we use.“Capitalists will sell us the rope we hang them with.” That’s attributed to Stalin, a name he made up to mean, “Steel man” (perhaps he was reading comic books). Coincidentally, and this how amazing the world can work, Stalin, Tito (who became the dictator of Yugoslavia), Hitler, and Freud all lived in Vienna at the same time, all but Freud within blocks of each other, and could have frequented the same cafe where political agitators and exiles met. If only they could’ve worked out their differences over a cup of coffee. Back to the present and immediate future. While we’re not in the market for a noose, some well-connected corporation is selling the data.

All it takes is money to buy the statistics. With modern social media, fundraising to pay for reliable figures is a goal well within reach. It’s just a matter of a well-designed campaign. Dear reader, do you know of anyone well-heeled or any foundation with deep pockets and a relentless curiosity to know the size of the worth of our Earth? Let us know.

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