Rent-Seeking and Global Conflict

National governments originate historically to acquire, hold and police land. Other functions are assumed later, but sovereignty over land is always the first business. Private parties hold land from the sovereign: every chain of title goes back to a grantor who originally seized the land.
When economists today speak of “rent—seeking” they usually are thinking not of basic land rent, but in subtle and sophisticated terms, looking at dribs and drabs of transfer rent derived from contracting advantages. They develop abstract models for gaming optimally with imperfect information, and so on. By emphasizing the arcane while ignoring the basic they are in danger of matching the proverbial expert who fine—tunes all the details and elaborations as he forges on to the grand disaster.
Paper presented to UC Seminar on Global Conflict and Cooperation, Laguna Beach, Feb. 1988, pp. 1-6

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