Rent-seeking & Directly Unproductive Profit-Seeking Activities



Confusingly, rent has two different meanings for economists. The first is the commonplace definition: the INCOME from hiring out LAND or other durable goods. The second, also known as economic rent, is a measure of MARKET POWER: the difference between what a FACTOR OF PRODUCTION is paid and how much it would need to be paid to remain in its current use. A soccer star may be paid $50,000 a week to play for his team when he would be willing to turn out for only $10,000, so his economic rent is $40,000 a week. In PERFECT COMPETITION, there are no economic rents, as new FIRMS enter a market and compete until PRICES fall and all rent is eliminated. Reducing rent does not change production decisions, so economic rent can be taxed without any adverse impact on the real economy, assuming that it really is rent.



Cutting yourself a bigger slice of the cake rather than making the cake bigger. Trying to make more money without producing more for customers. Classic examples of rent-seeking, a phrase coined by an economist, Gordon Tullock, include:

• a protection racket, in which the gang takes a cut from the shopkeeper’s PROFIT;

• a CARTEL of FIRMS agreeing to raise PRICES;

• a UNION demanding higher WAGES without offering any increase in PRODUCTIVITY;

• lobbying the GOVERNMENT for tax, spending or regulatory policies that benefit the lobbyists at the expense of taxpayers or consumers or some other rivals.

Whether legal or illegal, as they do not create any value, rent-seeking activities can impose large costs on an economy.

Directly Unproductive Profit-Seeking Activities


Activities that have no direct productive purpose (neither increasing consumer utility nor contributing to production of a good or service that would increase utility) and are motivated by the desire to make profit, typically from market distortions created by government policies. Examples are rent seeking and revenue seeking. Term coined by Bhagwati (1982).


rent seeking


The using up of real resources in an effort to secure the rights to economic rents that arise from government policies. In international economics the term usually refers to efforts to obtain quota rents. Term introduced by Krueger 1974.