"A pox on rent-seekers!"
...but who is the rent-seeker?

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright August 2016


A "good job" is one that is increasing the community prosperity. But not everyone has a good job by this definition.

The topic of this essay is those jobs which are well-paying but are sucking off prosperity not adding to it, and they are doing this without good reason for doing so. These days the pejorative term for such a job is "rent-seeking".

"Hey you! Rent Seeker."

But... just who is a rent-seeker?

This is not agreed upon by those who argue about social justice topics, and as a result this rent seeking topic is the source of heated arguments. I call them arguments rather than debates because the discussions on social media are full of passion rather than cool-headed informing or research.

Here are some of the definitions I see:

o For social justice warriors the rent-seekers are fat-cat capitalists who rake in too much profit from businesses they own or invest in.

o For aspiring business owners the rent-seekers are government bureaucrats and regulators who add lots of grief to their projects to grow profitable businesses.

o For outraged taxpayers it is those who are gaming the system by over-collecting in various kinds of welfare and subsidy programs.

o For those trying to start and grow small service-oriented businesses it is the regulators promulgating and enforcing overly restrictive licensing requirements.

These multiple definitions make rent seeking tough to talk about in cool-headed ways. What makes it even worse is those who are rent-seekers in one set of eyes are protectors or victims in another set. This means opinion determines who is a rent seeker, not some clear definition.

Here are some examples of alternative points of view:

o regulators of big business and finance are protecting average citizens from fat cats and unscrupulous wheeler-dealers

o business practice licensers are protecting consumers and established businesses from those who do shoddy workmanship and unfair competition

o beggars and threatened businesses are victims who need succor

And adding lots of teeth to this opinion morass, there are social shamers who consider themselves to be upholding community standards when they make choices about who to shame.

In sum, it's not surprising that "rent seeking" is a problem that isn't being solved. It won't begin to be solved until more precise definitions can be agreed upon.



--The End--