Companion to the Political Economy of Rent Seeking
Edited by Roger D. Congleton and Arye L. Hillman
Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 2015.
Pp. xvii, 534. $240 hardcover.
Rent seeking is a foundational aspect for the field of public choice, and its incorporation into mainstream economics has become commonplace. Companion to the Political Economy of Rent Seeking offers a collection of overview articles on various aspects related to rent seeking, following the recent publication of reprints contained in the two-volume work 40 Tears of Research on Rent Seeking (Berlin: Springer, 2008), compiled by the same editors (along with Kai Konrad). The editors have put together an impressive volume that should be of interest to both those new to the subject and those looking to round out their knowledge of particular aspects of the vast literature on rent seeking.
The volume comprises five parts. It opens with a brief introductory section containing two short chapters written separately by each of the editors. Roger Congleton's chapter is an interesting read that relates evolutionary survival to rent seeking but does not serve the normal purpose of introducing the concepts developed in the later chapters. Arye Hillman's chapter contains a brief introduction to contests, the subject of part II, and single paragraphs on the concepts of rent extraction and rent creation. Further development of the importance of these latter issues could have been beneficial to attract a wider audience. Especially useful would have been referencing the debate over the definition of rent seeking. It is not clear to me whether it has yet been settled. Some invoke a very narrow definition of resources used to influence policy that has negative social value, whereas others consider rent seeking that may also involve only private parties or can have social benefits. Most of the contributing authors seem to rely on the most narrow of the definitions, but not all of them do, which somewhat limits comparability across chapters. This becomes particularly problematic in part III, in which each chapter covers rent seeking in a particular country or region. The separate authors do not always utilize the same definition, with some chapters discussing a narrower type of rent seeking. A synopsis of this section would also have been useful to highlight for the reader where rent seeking seems to be most prevalent in the world.
Because rent seeking is not easily measured, much of the...