Monday, April 25, 2016

Walter Block On the Intellectual War Path

Walter Block has posted over at LRC an email discussion he had with David Gordon over whether the use of the term "Civil War" is a term that is a name or descriptive.

I don't want to comment as much on that as I do on another point Dr. Block makes during his exchange:
A similar situation occurs with regard to the Public Choice notion about “rent seeking.” I have also been on the (intellectual) warpath in an attempt to change this to “loot seeking” or something of that sort. Maybe, “theft seeking.” Why? Because it is improper to characterize so inoffensive a concept as “rent” in this nefarious way. But, maybe, “rent seeking” is now a name? I have no idea if this is true, nor how to determine the truth of this claim. And, I don’t much care. We ought to substitute “loot seeking” for “rent seeking” because the former is not misleading while the latter is.

On that see this:

Block, Walter E. 2002. “All Government is Excessive: A Rejoinder to ‘In Defense of Excessive Government’ by Dwight Lee,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 35-82.; rent seeking, market failure

Block, Walter E. 2000. “Watch Your Language,” February 21;;

I am with Dr. Block here. "Rent seeking" is most certainly a name in the sense that Dr. Gordon is using the term, but it would certainly help the cause to align the name with a term that is more descriptive of what is going on. I hereby support Dr. Block's call to advance the term "loot seeking"and I have added the definition to the EPJ Research Room.



  1. David Henderson wrote about this here:

    He suggests "privilege seeking" instead of "rent seeking."

    I prefer that to "loot seeking" because the public often equates law with morality. The talking heads do it all the time when its to their benefit. Hence, the opinion makers can easily scoff at and brush aside libertarians who call this activity "loot seeking."

    The public will not allow themselves to picture GE and Realtors Association in the same frame as the 'thugs' in Ferguson or New Orleans.

    However, the American public doesn't like privilege. Not white privilege or trust fund babies.

    "Privilege seeking," therefore is very accurate (more so than loot-seeking which implies an illegal activity) and cannot be brushed off as hyperbole and it associates the activity with something that Americans don't like.

    The public would refuse to associate GE with vandals and thieves, but they could associate GE with "robber barons" or "the corrupt elite."

  2. I totally agree with this. I remember being surprised, when first coming across the term, that "rent seeking" was considered a bad thing. I think I prefer "plunder" to "loot", but that's nit-picking.

  3. Same thing with the "Estate Tax." It is better described as the "Grave Robber Tax."

  4. Anyone who cares about popular understanding must stop using the word capitalism, a slur coined by Karl Marx. He should use instead or explain that capitalism means "individual freedom to work, cooperate, and exchange". (I'm open to better wording.)

    About "crony capitalism". The average person interprets this as a flavor of capitalism. Instead, we should speak of government corruption and a system designed by politicians for taking bribes. The government is a socialist institution. Bribing, Cronyism, and Crony Socialism naturally expand with bigger and more powerful government.

    Freedom to work, cooperate, and exchange is incompatible with politicians taking bribes and handing out favors under the color of law. That is not part of individual freedom of association, trade, and personal liberty.

    Every discussion of "crony capitalism" convinces some people that individual freedom (capitalism) is a corrupt lie. People should be reminded that political bribes are a construct of government.

    We could eliminate bribes and favors. It should be major crime for a politician to accept a bribe, but only a minor fine to offer or deliver one. Politicians would not accept bribes for fear of being exposed. Current practice is usually to protect the politician and prosecute the offerer. This keeps corrupt politicians safe.