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Rent-seeking

When an individual or an entity seeks to increase their own wealth without benefiting society

What is Rent-seeking?

Rent-seeking is a concept in economics that states that an individual or an entity seeks to increase their own wealth without creating any benefits or wealth to the society.

Rent-seeking activities aim to obtain financial gains and benefits through the manipulation of the distribution of economic resources. Economists view such activities as detrimental to the economy and the society. The practice reduces economic efficiency through the inefficient allocation of resources. In addition, it commonly leads to other damaging consequences, including a rise in income inequality, lost government revenues, and a decrease in competition.

 

Rent-seeking

 

Rent-seeking never encourages productivity in the economy. On the other hand, it can be an easier alternative to production for the purpose of obtaining financial benefits. The practice can be especially favorable during economic slowdowns or recessions when companies cannot easily increase production.

Also, it is commonly viewed that rent-seeking activities discourage innovation. Instead of developing new innovative methods for revenue generation, companies may rely on the practice to increase its own wealth.

 

Origins of Rent-seeking

The concept of rent-seeking was developed by American economist Gordon Tullock in 1967. However, the term was offered by another economist, Anne Krueger.

In such a case, the term “rent” is referred to as one of the sources of income generation that was conceptualized by Adam Smith. According to Smith, rent is an activity of lending one’s own resources in exchange for some benefits. Relative to other sources of income (profit, wages), rent is the least risky and the least labor-demanding source of income.

 

The Tullock Paradox

The corruption of politicians is related to rent-seeking activities. In order to gain certain benefits, the rent-seekers may bribe the politicians. However, G. Tullock determined that there is a significant difference between the cost of the rent-seeking (bribery) and the gains from this practice. This paradox is called the Tullock Paradox.

The Tullock Paradox states that rent-seekers generally obtain large financial and economic gains at an enormously small cost. This cost-benefit discrepancy provides several possible explanations:

  • In democratic states, voters monitor the behavior of the politicians. Therefore, if politicians demand high bribes, it may be discovered by the voters. Subsequently, the voters can penalize the corrupted politicians by not re-electing them.
  • Another force that that is driving the costs for rent-seekers is the competition among politicians. There are different politicians who may ensure the delivery of certain benefits to the rent-seekers. Therefore, the competing politicians will push down the cost of rent-seeking.

 

Examples of Rent-seeking Activities

  • Lobbies
  • Government subsidies
  • Grants
  • Tariffs
  • Taxi licensing

 

Related Readings

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