Murray Rothbard on Rent Seeking

Murray Rothbard wrote about rent seeking in his treatise Man, Economy and State. In economic terms, rent seeking is “one of the most important insights in the last fifty years of economics and, unfortunately, one of the most inappropriately labeled . . . The idea is simple but powerful. People are said to seek rents when they try to obtain benefits for themselves through the political arena .  . Economists . . . use the term to describe people’s lobbying of government to give them special privileges. A much better term is ‘privilege seeking’.”1

Rent-SeekingFurthermore, 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.2

Government control over providing rent seeking privileges appears to be a popular topic in the Book of Mormon. As Nephite society periodically slipped backed into the “old materialism”3, they became especially enamored with leaders who would provide these privileges – first the king-men, and subsequently the Gadiantons.


  1. Henderson, David R. “Rent Seeking“. Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved 17 Jun 2013.
  2. Rothbard, Murray N. Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles with Power and Market and the Economy. Scholar’s Edition, second edition. Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009. 942. PDF copy.
  3. Nibley, Hugh W. “Freemen and King-men in the Book of Mormon”.  Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. 17 Jun 2013.

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