Maddog has written a very useful explanation in the left wing blog Daily Kos about the dry and dismissed term ‘economic rent’ and why it is so useful to explain the outrage that propels the Occupy movement. Of course, some economists never forgot such as Michael Hudson and James Robertson who renamed it the ‘Free Lunch’, a much better moniker in my view. Here is how Maddog explains the term…
Adam Smith observed that only 2 of the 3 groups made any real contribution to the production process. The workers contributed their time. The capitalists contributed their capital that they either bought, but is now used and worth less than before it was used. The Rentiers contributed their land, but have lost nothing. Once the manufacturing of the bricks is done, they get their land back and it is still worth the same as it was before. Any income they made by renting out their land was made without work, and without risk to their assets. There is a word for someone that only takes, but doesn’t give back: a parasite. Smith and those who carried on his work used the nicer term, Rentier. This is where the phrase “economic rent” originates. It originally described a no value-ad landlord.
Adam Smith and future classical economists existed in a time where the noble families of medieval Europe were still the large landowners. The nobles had just turned into Rentiers. Because they owned the land, they were able to rent it out to capitalist and workers and claim a portion of their profits and wages by charging “rent”. They were able to do this without ever working. It was unearned income.
Much of the work done by economists from Adam Smith until the late 19th century was all about finding and identifying “rent-seeking”. These classical economists didn’t want to overthrow capitalism, they wanted to free it from the “rent-seeking” parasites.
Eliminating economic rent is the main objective of Smart Taxes. That is why we promote Land Value Taxes, Cap and Share and support charging for the use of common resources. We also promote ending the financial free lunch of our current money system through the green alternative money perspective as well as that of Modern Monetary Theory. Enough promo:- here is another snippet from Maddog.
In the late 60s and early 70s “economic rent” saw a small revival among select economists. For those select few, “Rent-seeking” was no longer defined as just “ownership of the land”. It can take several shapes. Rent-seeking is any income that is unearned. An alternative definition is “profit without a corresponding cost of production”. “Economic Rent” can come from ownership of land and just “renting” it out for money. It can also come from collecting so much capital that a firm now has a monopoly and can set the price independent of supplydemand considerations, It can be from government monopoly granting, control of other “land” like our rivers, broadband spectrum, or “mineral rights” of land. It can come from control of financial assets like capital gains, dividends, and interest on loans(especially usury). It can also come from political favors from the government….
Economic rent was something I’d learned about in school several years ago and quickly forgot about it once the class was over. Now in a post bank-bailout world, I ran across it again one day while researching another article, It was like a light-bulb clicking on in my head. (A high-efficiency light bulb). This is what progressives are currently fighting against. This is the concept, the vocabulary, the name for the rage I feel in my gut at what’s happened. The rentiers have taken over our country by masquerading as capitalists.
Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.