This entry is part 17 of 22 in the series Great Libertarian Memes

This article is #17 of a weekly series highlighting the former memes of Bureaucrash, an organization once headed by my friends Pete Eyre and Jason Talley of the Motorhome Diaries. The memes were originally authored by Pete Eyre and Anja Hartleb-Parson, and were intended as means of communicating ideas about liberty in catchy and succinct ways.

Rent-seeking refers to the behavior of individuals or groups expending resources to achieve public policy decisions that transfer wealth to them at the expense of others. Some examples:

  • A nonprofit organization might seek for the government to spend taxpayer money on their pet cause, such as protecting the environment or researching a disease.
  • A workers’ union might want the government to force employers to provide higher wages, more benefits and greater job security.
  • A corporation might seek subsidization to support an unsustainable business model instead of working to become more profitable.

While the rent-seekers should be faulted for the behavior, it is the government granting rent-seekers what they want that is the real problem. As it shells out more benefits and privileges, government has to collect more taxes to administer and pay for them, thus vastly increasing its size and scope.

Rent-seeking is theft. A rent-seeker wants to achieve a wealth transfer in his favor without having to provide value in return. In a mixed economy, companies and organizations find it more effective to petition the government for protection (i.e. subsidies, tariffs, entry barriers, regulations, etc.) than to compete by providing goods and services that consumers want to pay for. Since in a free market the choices of other individuals might not go in his favor, the rent-seeker would rather have the government initiate force against those individuals. The free market, on the other hand, is predicated upon and respects individuals’ free choices. Rent-seekers hinder the dynamism of the free market. When you and I trade in the free market, we each give the other something the other wants more than we want it, relative to what we receive in exchange. By contrast, when the government initiates force in favor of a rent-seeker, it makes everybody but the rent-seeker worse off. It leaves the rent-seeker’s competitors worse off, because the rent-seeker now has a government-enforced advantage, whether in the form of a government-approved monopoly, or stifling regulations faced by would-be entrepreneurs. Because market forces and signals are hindered and distorted, this leaves consumers worse off. They are forced to pay higher prices for poorer quality goods and services.

Rent-seeking harms economic growth. Instead of companies investing their money in new technology, new jobs, offering consumers better products and better prices, or increasing their employees’ pay, the money ends up in the pockets of lobbyists and the politicians able to grant favors. Consumers are forced to pay more for goods and services and taxpayers have to foot the bill for the rent-seekers’ government-enforced advantage. So, over time, as government arbitrarily favors one group over another and expands in size in order to pay for rents, rent-seeking erodes the mechanisms that make economic growth and wealth creation possible: the impartial rule of law, limited government and individual rights.

Statists, whether out of distrust of individuals or faith in the ability of the government, prefer that the state controls people instead of people controlling themselves; they opt for government intervention rather than individual liberty. Statist policies can include regulation of the economy, provision of social goods, and control over personal behaviors. Many political ideologies can be subsumed under the label “statist” — communism, fascism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism. Even a democracy can become statist if it does not create or does not follow constitutional safeguards against the majority imposing its will without regard for the individual rights of the minority.

Statism is anti-liberty. Individuals have property in themselves, also called self-ownership, which entails they should be free to control their bodies, their minds and their lives. The only way to interfere with that freedom is by means of physical force. The job of governments is to defend individual rights by protecting individuals against the initiation of physical force. However, when governments institute statist policies, they initiate force against individuals who are not infringing on the liberty of others and thus violate individual rights. For instance, regulations, tariffs and subsidies for businesses violate the rights of entrepreneurs and consumers, who both are prevented from voluntarily determining the terms of their interactions with others. If I choose to not give my money to a certain business, government has no authority to overrule that decision. It violates my freedom of choice and deprives others of the property they would have gained in the absence of government interference. Immigration restrictions violate the rights of individuals, since they are prevented from peacefully living and working where they choose to. Bans on smoking and the use of other drugs, speed limits and seat belt requirements, and laws preventing the sale of organs violate your rights since you are prevented from making decisions about your own body.

Previous | Next | All Memes

Series NavigationPrevious Post: Previous Post:Next Post: Next Post:

Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Pingback: Stop Rent-seeking — Libertarian Longhorns()

  • state enforced copyrights and patents are another example of rent seeking

  • state enforced copyrights and patents are another example of rent seeking

  • Samuel: That is so true!

  • Samuel: That is so true!

  • Coercion, as a result of political pandering, can be achieved through the use of force or fraud (deceit). The more devious of the two forms of coercion is fraud because it is less transparent and often purposefully obscured by the lapdog media playing to establishment interests.

  • Coercion, as a result of political pandering, can be achieved through the use of force or fraud (deceit). The more devious of the two forms of coercion is fraud because it is less transparent and often purposefully obscured by the lapdog media playing to establishment interests.

  • The Bible, several times, denounces the acceptor of bribes. While it never says to not offer a bribe, most people agree that offering a bribe is bad. But, the focus on the acceptance rather than the offer, suggests a biblical support to a claim early in this post:

    “While the rent-seekers should be faulted for the behavior, it is the government granting rent-seekers what they want that is the real problem.”

    In fact, a bribe is a form of rent-seeking, or you could say rent-seeking is a form of bribery. Instead of relying on an honest evaluation of the facts to lead to the Judge’s result, the briber tries to buy a favorable result. So the rent-seeker doesn’t rely on the evaluation of the market, but tries to buy a favorable result via government action.

    Norman: you favor privatizing roadways. Under a private system, it seems clear to me that the company overseeing any particular stretch of roadway would have the right to require via contract (and before you say, “Aha! that’s the/a key. A contract would exist.” just note that I understand that this is the/a key point) strict adherence to safety measures including but not limited to speed limits and seat-belts.

    Assume for the sake of argument that the Government should be in the “business” of roads, surely it is appropriate for the government to put restrictions in place (e.g. speed limits, seat belt requirements, etc.). If the government should be in the “business” of roads, and you want to drive on said roads, you could be seen as entering an implied contract regarding use of said roads.

    (and such an implied contract is not a ridiculous notion. It is ridiculous notion to think that being born into the U.S. means that you’re contracting to obey all it’s laws, etc. etc. I agree with you that this idea is little better than a malevolent farce. Some other theory than contract must underly the legitimacy of behometh governments.)

    But while we’re talking about rent seeking: surely the involvement of government in the business of roadmaking is a form of rent seeking itself, no?

    Norman and Samuel: It’s easy to say that (about copyrights and patents) once you’ve fully answered the question of “property” that many people see tied up in the issue. You do know, of course, that there are a lot of people who don’t give a hoot about the complexities of copyright/patent law. To them, it’s a moral issue: Copyright and patent infringement is wrong, because it’s wrong, just plain wrong, because it’s, well, stealing…highway robbery. Thou shalt not steal, and all of that.

  • The Bible, several times, denounces the acceptor of bribes. While it never says to not offer a bribe, most people agree that offering a bribe is bad. But, the focus on the acceptance rather than the offer, suggests a biblical support to a claim early in this post:

    “While the rent-seekers should be faulted for the behavior, it is the government granting rent-seekers what they want that is the real problem.”

    In fact, a bribe is a form of rent-seeking, or you could say rent-seeking is a form of bribery. Instead of relying on an honest evaluation of the facts to lead to the Judge’s result, the briber tries to buy a favorable result. So the rent-seeker doesn’t rely on the evaluation of the market, but tries to buy a favorable result via government action.

    Norman: you favor privatizing roadways. Under a private system, it seems clear to me that the company overseeing any particular stretch of roadway would have the right to require via contract (and before you say, “Aha! that’s the/a key. A contract would exist.” just note that I understand that this is the/a key point) strict adherence to safety measures including but not limited to speed limits and seat-belts.

    Assume for the sake of argument that the Government should be in the “business” of roads, surely it is appropriate for the government to put restrictions in place (e.g. speed limits, seat belt requirements, etc.). If the government should be in the “business” of roads, and you want to drive on said roads, you could be seen as entering an implied contract regarding use of said roads.

    (and such an implied contract is not a ridiculous notion. It is ridiculous notion to think that being born into the U.S. means that you’re contracting to obey all it’s laws, etc. etc. I agree with you that this idea is little better than a malevolent farce. Some other theory than contract must underly the legitimacy of behometh governments.)

    But while we’re talking about rent seeking: surely the involvement of government in the business of roadmaking is a form of rent seeking itself, no?

    Norman and Samuel: It’s easy to say that (about copyrights and patents) once you’ve fully answered the question of “property” that many people see tied up in the issue. You do know, of course, that there are a lot of people who don’t give a hoot about the complexities of copyright/patent law. To them, it’s a moral issue: Copyright and patent infringement is wrong, because it’s wrong, just plain wrong, because it’s, well, stealing…highway robbery. Thou shalt not steal, and all of that.

  • Jaired Hall, very good remark about the bibery. Also, we are very well aware that many people have been brainwashed into believing that some monopoly privileges are property. Rentseeking is immoral because it requires creating, assigning and enforcing fictional rights (privileges) at the expense of real rights and involves a propaganda to prevent people from protecting their rights and accepting the artificial privileges.

    About the roads and seat belts: yes, if a subject (even a state) rightfully owned the roads, then it would be their right to set conditions for using them. However current states don’t own the roads legitimately, they basically stole them or bought them with stolen property.

  • Jaired Hall, very good remark about the bibery. Also, we are very well aware that many people have been brainwashed into believing that some monopoly privileges are property. Rentseeking is immoral because it requires creating, assigning and enforcing fictional rights (privileges) at the expense of real rights and involves a propaganda to prevent people from protecting their rights and accepting the artificial privileges.

    About the roads and seat belts: yes, if a subject (even a state) rightfully owned the roads, then it would be their right to set conditions for using them. However current states don’t own the roads legitimately, they basically stole them or bought them with stolen property.

  • Samuel…

    How would you articulate the argument that what I write (say a poem or a novel) is not “mine” (mine in the sense that someone who copies it is taking it for himself, stealing, and therefore violating my rights)?

    Back to roads. Alright, so we’ll assume the government doesn’t legitimately own the roads. But we’ve acknowledged that a user of the road can be rightfully restricted. In other words, they don’t have a “right” to use the road unrestricted. Right? So why are restrictions violations of rights . . . if no such right exists?

    Onto other stuff. Thou shalt not murder. Some would have it: thou shalt not kill. This is based on either the belief that all killing is murder, or, more correctly, a belief that all killing is immoral whether it qualifies as “murder” or some other form of intentional killing.

    Personally, I fall on the “thou shalt not murder” side of things; some intentional killing is morally justified.

    It seems to me that TAKING property from another is not the definition of theft. And taking property from another without that person’s consent is not the definition of theft either.

    Why is consent (contract) the foundational moral issue of the universe? Children are born into families, and their parents have rightful authority over them (no?). Why cannot “Citizens” be born into nations under governments that have rightful authority over them?

    Switching gears a bit: In thinking about these things, I begin to see the intellectual appeal of Positivism (there is no moral question; there is only power). For one thing, the idea of the implied Social Contract falls apart as a bit of a farce. Other intellectual underpinnings of government authority seem difficult to articulate. The typical Christian response (Render unto Caesar, and Paul’s admonition to be subject to earthly authorities) are stated as arbitrary commands from God (I obey because I’m told) without grappling with God’s apparent high emphasis on Wisdom (see the book of the Proverbs of Solomon). What is being said in those famous quotations from the Bible? Why is it being said? And what does it really mean as far as (1) government authority, (2) inalienable rights of human beings, and (3) proper action by Christians.

  • Samuel…

    How would you articulate the argument that what I write (say a poem or a novel) is not “mine” (mine in the sense that someone who copies it is taking it for himself, stealing, and therefore violating my rights)?

    Back to roads. Alright, so we’ll assume the government doesn’t legitimately own the roads. But we’ve acknowledged that a user of the road can be rightfully restricted. In other words, they don’t have a “right” to use the road unrestricted. Right? So why are restrictions violations of rights . . . if no such right exists?

    Onto other stuff. Thou shalt not murder. Some would have it: thou shalt not kill. This is based on either the belief that all killing is murder, or, more correctly, a belief that all killing is immoral whether it qualifies as “murder” or some other form of intentional killing.

    Personally, I fall on the “thou shalt not murder” side of things; some intentional killing is morally justified.

    It seems to me that TAKING property from another is not the definition of theft. And taking property from another without that person’s consent is not the definition of theft either.

    Why is consent (contract) the foundational moral issue of the universe? Children are born into families, and their parents have rightful authority over them (no?). Why cannot “Citizens” be born into nations under governments that have rightful authority over them?

    Switching gears a bit: In thinking about these things, I begin to see the intellectual appeal of Positivism (there is no moral question; there is only power). For one thing, the idea of the implied Social Contract falls apart as a bit of a farce. Other intellectual underpinnings of government authority seem difficult to articulate. The typical Christian response (Render unto Caesar, and Paul’s admonition to be subject to earthly authorities) are stated as arbitrary commands from God (I obey because I’m told) without grappling with God’s apparent high emphasis on Wisdom (see the book of the Proverbs of Solomon). What is being said in those famous quotations from the Bible? Why is it being said? And what does it really mean as far as (1) government authority, (2) inalienable rights of human beings, and (3) proper action by Christians.

  • Wow, so many excellent questions, each deserving its own article if not a book!

    What you write is yours. When someone copies it, nothing happened to your original creation, it was not manipulated, modified or reduced. A copy expressed as an arrangement of someone else’s physical property is not yours, because you don’t have control over someone else’s property.

    User of a road can be contractualy restricted by its rightful owner

    Parents have rightful authority over their children until they demonstrate their ability to own themselves (eg. by running away). Citizens can be born into a government (or any other mafia-like organization) no more than one can be born into slavery. If the government created me in their test tube, I too would be under their authority until I started to decide things for myself.

  • Wow, so many excellent questions, each deserving its own article if not a book!

    What you write is yours. When someone copies it, nothing happened to your original creation, it was not manipulated, modified or reduced. A copy expressed as an arrangement of someone else’s physical property is not yours, because you don’t have control over someone else’s property.

    User of a road can be contractualy restricted by its rightful owner

    Parents have rightful authority over their children until they demonstrate their ability to own themselves (eg. by running away). Citizens can be born into a government (or any other mafia-like organization) no more than one can be born into slavery. If the government created me in their test tube, I too would be under their authority until I started to decide things for myself.

  • Pingback: Stop Statism | LibertarianChristians.com()

  • Ah…this is why wives should stay up late with their sisters-in-law watching movies that I’m not interest in…so that I can have time to ramble about this sort of thing.

    Yes, if only I had time to write a book on each issue that interested me. Bleah.

    With regard to copying: it is noteworthy that the Constitutional rationale for giving Congress authority to govern copyright law (Article I, Section 8) was to promote progress in science and the arts. The Constitution does not even hint at “theft” being the issue. There is quite a bit of discussion these days about whether copyright and patent laws even have the desired practical effect, and that free copying is even more effective.

    But, I don’t want to leave off the moral issue just yet. Look at it from the angle of acquiring benefit from the labor of another. And the flipside: having a “right” to the fruits of one’s labor. Is it unfair or a strawman to argue from a hypothetical genius author who spends ten thousand hours producing a masterpiece only to have it copied by a better marketer who proceeds to spends a hundred hours marketing the book and raking in millions in profits while the author himself gets very little?

    If you set as your metaphysical or presuppositional ultimate moral issue the physical taking of physical property (a zero sum game: the loss of one to the benefit of another), then you look at my hypothetical and say, lethargically: yeah….so what?

    Yet to me, it seems almost “self evident” that there’s a moral travesty going on in my hypothetical.

    And laws about physical property theft have foundations only in morality . . . so, what makes that morality legislatable and not other important moral issues?

    Roads:

    “User of a road can be contractualy restricted by its rightful owner.”

    But does this answer the question? If you don’t have a right to be unrestricted, how are your rights violated when you are restricted? You don’t have a right to use the roads, so even if the Government shouldn’t own them, the plain fact of the matter is that they control them, and you’re using them. Quid pro pro. You use the roads, you abide by the rules.

    Parents:

    Wait a minute: parental authority goes away when the child demonstrates an ability to own themselves? I am sure that at age 14, I had more ability to own myself than many other children who have run away at 15 or 16.

    Hmmm….this plays into my thoughts about about the dumbing down of society. The Statists come at us from the angle of their elitism. They know how to run our lives much better than we do. We’re too stupid, right? And we combat that saying that we can run our own lives, thank you very much. Well…in my line of work, I get to interact with a lot of people who really are too stupid to run their owns lives (funny deathly circle, really; our system contributes hugely to this incredible incompetence).

    New query: so if people demonstrate that they are too stupid to own themselves, does the first competent person to walk along (usually a government agency) have authority to step in?

    Running away might not be a good bench mark for self-ownership. Incompetent people (I mean this more from a legal perspective than people that we call generically and rudely call “stupid” or “idiotic”) can often taken steps of self ownership, including running away.

  • Ah…this is why wives should stay up late with their sisters-in-law watching movies that I’m not interest in…so that I can have time to ramble about this sort of thing.

    Yes, if only I had time to write a book on each issue that interested me. Bleah.

    With regard to copying: it is noteworthy that the Constitutional rationale for giving Congress authority to govern copyright law (Article I, Section 8) was to promote progress in science and the arts. The Constitution does not even hint at “theft” being the issue. There is quite a bit of discussion these days about whether copyright and patent laws even have the desired practical effect, and that free copying is even more effective.

    But, I don’t want to leave off the moral issue just yet. Look at it from the angle of acquiring benefit from the labor of another. And the flipside: having a “right” to the fruits of one’s labor. Is it unfair or a strawman to argue from a hypothetical genius author who spends ten thousand hours producing a masterpiece only to have it copied by a better marketer who proceeds to spends a hundred hours marketing the book and raking in millions in profits while the author himself gets very little?

    If you set as your metaphysical or presuppositional ultimate moral issue the physical taking of physical property (a zero sum game: the loss of one to the benefit of another), then you look at my hypothetical and say, lethargically: yeah….so what?

    Yet to me, it seems almost “self evident” that there’s a moral travesty going on in my hypothetical.

    And laws about physical property theft have foundations only in morality . . . so, what makes that morality legislatable and not other important moral issues?

    Roads:

    “User of a road can be contractualy restricted by its rightful owner.”

    But does this answer the question? If you don’t have a right to be unrestricted, how are your rights violated when you are restricted? You don’t have a right to use the roads, so even if the Government shouldn’t own them, the plain fact of the matter is that they control them, and you’re using them. Quid pro pro. You use the roads, you abide by the rules.

    Parents:

    Wait a minute: parental authority goes away when the child demonstrates an ability to own themselves? I am sure that at age 14, I had more ability to own myself than many other children who have run away at 15 or 16.

    Hmmm….this plays into my thoughts about about the dumbing down of society. The Statists come at us from the angle of their elitism. They know how to run our lives much better than we do. We’re too stupid, right? And we combat that saying that we can run our own lives, thank you very much. Well…in my line of work, I get to interact with a lot of people who really are too stupid to run their owns lives (funny deathly circle, really; our system contributes hugely to this incredible incompetence).

    New query: so if people demonstrate that they are too stupid to own themselves, does the first competent person to walk along (usually a government agency) have authority to step in?

    Running away might not be a good bench mark for self-ownership. Incompetent people (I mean this more from a legal perspective than people that we call generically and rudely call “stupid” or “idiotic”) can often taken steps of self ownership, including running away.