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Rothbard on Rent Seeking


Murray Rothbard anticipated the concept of "rent seeking," generally associated with Gordon Tullock. In Man, Economy and State, he says:  "Furthermore, the more government intervenes and subsidizes, the more caste conflict will be created in society, for individuals and groups will benefit only at one another's expense. The more widespread the tax-and-subsidy process, the more people will be induced to abandon production and join the army of those who live coercively off production. Production and living standards will be progressively lowered as energy is diverted from production to politics and as government saddles a dwindling base of production with a growing and more top-heavy burden of the State-privileged. This process will be all the more accelerated because those who succeed in any activity will invariably tend to be those who are best at performing it. Those who particularly flourish on the free market, therefore, will be those most adept at production and at serving their fellow men; those who succeed in the political struggle for subsidies, on the other hand, will be those most adept at wielding coercion or at winning favors from wielders of coercion. Generally, different people will be in the different categories of the successful, in accordance with the universal specialization of skills. Furthermore, for those who are skilled at both, the tax-and-subsidy system will encourage and promote their predatory skills and penalize their productive ones." (Scholar's Edition, p.942)

A similar passage can be found on p.1256. The latter is from Power and Market, which was not published until 1970; but Rothbard completed the manuscript of MES and Power and Market, which were written as part of a single work, in 1959. MES was published in 1962, and Tullock's seminal article appeared in 1967.


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David Gordon is Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute and editor of the Mises Review.

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