The Internet Means More Options and Opportunities, Not an Automatic Solution
by Hanno T. BeckThe subject of my talk is lemonade. On a hot day at the beach, I get thirsty and what I like is a cup of ice-cold lemonade.
Georgist education, bringing Georgist ideas to people, is in many ways like selling lemonade at the beach. Is someone thirsty? We Georgists offer a nutritious solution to their thirst.
Alice Jones wants to sell lemonade at the beach. She wants to sell as much lemonade as possible. All Georgists do.
Now here is a beach with lots of people, and over here is a beach with very few people. At which beach does Alice set up her lemonade stand?
But wait! Some beaches already have lots of beverage vendors, other beaches have few.
And also! Some beaches are easy to get to, while others are far away and isolated.
Plus! Some beaches are full of thirsty people, while others are full of people who do not realize that they are thirsty. Some beaches do have people who are thirsty, but usually drink foul-tasting poison and insist that they like it. Some people are dying from a lack of lemonade but do not realize it. Do you recognize the similarities to our situation as Georgist educators?
Friends, it gets more and more complex. Should Alice Jones try to sell as much lemonade as possible right away, or should she be willing to sacrifice some sales today in return for a chance at much larger sales in the future?
And how much time should Alice spend showing a thirsty person that he is, in fact, thirsty? If she succeeds, will he necessarily buy lemonade from Alice or be lured away by her competitors?
Let’s add still another consideration. Should Alice try to sell little cups of lemonade to as many people as possible, or should she concentrate on selling a giant-jumbo size lemonade to just a few people? The Banneker Center has reached tens of thousands of people using little cups; the Henry George Institute reaches fewer people but provides giant jumbo cups.
Finally, let’s add the Internet. Now, Alice can sell lemonade anywhere in the world. Not just on a nearby beach. Alice’s options go from 100 to 100,000. This is because with the Internet, you can choose to deal with any group you like and the cost is very low.
And does this help Alice? Not necessarily. All it has done so far is add more complex choices to Alice’s burden of business decisionmaking.
We started out with the simplest idea — let’s sell lemonade at the beach. And we wind up with a thicket of complex questions. In the world of marketing and commerce, tens of millions of dollars are spent each year exploring these questions of where, how much, how soon, what price, what packaging, etc. More than 100,000 people spend their full-time energy on exploring questions such as these.
Georgist education runs the risk of becoming paralyzed by the richness and complexity of the options it enjoys. We want to communicate Georgist ideas to people but we want to do it right, so we plan, and think, and plan, and think....
You and I are not going to spend a few minutes talking about these challenges -- big cup, little cup, busy beach, quiet beach, and all the rest of the puzzles -- and come up with any definitive answers to them. We’re not going to outdo the efforts of 100,000 full time explorers of these puzzles. We can talk until we’re blue in the face without solving these questions. So what do we do?
I think we have two options. One is to do what I just mentioned -- we really can talk until we’re blue in the face without solving anything. It is fun, and it makes us feel important. Those are legitimate reasons. Georgists deserve to have some fun, Georgists deserve to feel important.
But I favor our second option. With all these marketing and commerce questions, how could anyone be certain that they are doing the best possible job of lemonade selling? But go to the beach and what do you find? People selling lemonade! It’s not a miracle. Each of them simply decided that after a certain point, further exploration of their various marketing options and location decisions was less important than getting out there onto the sand and providing lemonade to thirsty people!
That is our second option -- to educate others by educating others. Or as I am phrasing it this morning, sell lemonade by selling lemonade. Sell lemonade without knowing that our method is the absolute best, without knowing that we have selected the perfect audience, without knowing that we have chosen the best beach, without knowing that we have picked the ideal season, without knowing that we’re using the optimal sized cup, and so on. Have some faith and start selling lemonade.
For Alice Jones, it’s good enough to say “here is a beach with a lot of people, not many competitors, not too hard to get to, with people who get fairly thirsty” — and that is sufficient. Alice wants to sell lemonade, she doesn’t want to spend her life researching the characteristics of beaches. Give her a beach that is good enough and she will start getting results.
Are we Georgists not in a similar situation? Many of us are gifted at spotting difficulties and problems, but perhaps we need to spend less time on refining what should be done and more time doing. (That’s how you get the most valuable feedback anyway.)
The Internet gives us more, cheaper options for spreading Georgism.
The Internet is not just a toy for a small wealthy elite group. Tens of millions of people use email and the World Wide Web every day. There are so many Internet users that they are no longer a very specialized population. During this year, 1999, the percent of Internet users who are female reached 50%. During this year, 1999, the percent of Internet users who are not from the United States reached 50%.
Choose a group. Any group. Veterinarians? Fine. Find places on the Internet where members of that group go. Then you go there too and pay attention, listen carefully. Then begin communicating, begin sharing Georgist ideas.
That’s the whole game right there. Choose a group. Find places where members of that group go. Then you go there too. Listen, and communicate.
I don’t care if you choose to spread Georgism to “Norwegian needlemakers” or “tattooed teenagers” or “Burmese bureaucrats.” Georgists might have opinions on what groups to approach, but none of us really knows what groups will work out the best. The important thing is that you do make a choice. We can spend our whole lives analyzing our options; but grab one, grab one and see what happens!
And as we gain more experience we learn many important lessons — we improve. As we improve we start to make good guesses, and that’s the best any of us will ever make, good guesses, whether to spend our educating energy on powerful people or frustrated people, realtors or refugees, artists or professors.
I will give you a little example of how we at the Banneker Center made a choice of a new beach on which to sell some lemonade.
We use the Internet so we can choose almost any group of people to target. We decided to go after a large group with messages of Georgist education. What large group? We picked people who desperately need Georgism. Suffering people. In lemonade terms, we chose a group that is dying of thirst and knows it.
In my judgement, people living in Latin American countries are in desperate need of Georgism. There are a lot of them, they are suffering, and they want answers to fundamental questions of ownership, land and taxes.
Not a bad group to approach via the World Wide Web. Research shows that this group is going to come onto the Internet in fast-growing numbers during the next several years. We can grab their attention early. Of course, many poor people won’t be on the Internet directly, so we will also need to pay special attention to people who interact with the poor — such as clergy, journalists and activists.
That’s our beach. We do not have this beach all to ourselves. There are others who are trying to sell their beverages to the thirsty people of Latin America. Our competitors are communism and socialism and global corporate capitalism, and -- perhaps the toughest of all -- the status quo. But all of those have lost some credibility in recent years.
(And as an aside, Latin American people often have strong religious beliefs. Unlike Communists and corporate attorneys, Henry George made no secret of his religious beliefs. People can appreciate that.)
Without the Internet, we would not be able to reach people in Latin America in any cost-effective way. We would not be able to get the right message to the right person; we would not be able to create new dialogues and build a new pro-Georgist constituency.
With the Internet, we will be doing those things. Tens of thousands of pages of pro-Georgist material will zoom onto the computers of Latin America, in Spanish, tailored to the right people, sharing the hope embodied in the Georgist vision.
Is Latin America the best choice? I don’t know. But we made a choice. It’s a beach and we’re going to sell some lemonade there. In a year or two we’ll know a lot more than we do now.
Little Joey wanted to ride on the merry-go-round, but he couldn’t decide which horse to ride on. And after a while the merry-go-round came to a stop. He missed his chance. The next week, little Joey got on a merry-go-round horse -- not his favorite color -- but he had a great time. Any horse is better than being separated from the activity.
Internet technology means that, at a low cost, we can choose and target any groups we wish. We can try to bring a Georgist education to any group. That’s wonderful! But, like little Joey, we still have to grab a horse, grab a horse and start riding!
Hanno T. Beck is president of the Benjamin Banneker Center for Economic Justice and Progress, Inc.
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