Hiding the Rentier Elephant in Plain Sight: The Epistemology of Vanishing Rent
Keywords:Rentier Capitalism, Economic Inequality, Exploitation, Ignorance Studies, Billionaires
Economic rent is defined as excessive financial returns made possible by control or monopoly over a particular market. A minority of economists suggest that we live in an era of “rentier capitalism” characterized by exploitative extreme wealth. Their arguments are framed in new and powerful ways, but their focus has a long heritage, flowing back to classical economists such as Adam Smith who criticized the wealthy for reaping “where they never sowed.” While interest in rentierism is growing, other economists, including on the left, disagree that rentier gains underpin most extreme fortunes today. I introduce the concept of “ignorance pathways” to raise new points about the perceptual divide between those who “see” rent and those who do not. Mapping different ignorance pathways within modern economic thought, I theorize the reasons for why rentier returns remain “unseen”. Terminology is policy: it is harder to make a policy case for redistributing rentier returns when the contentious object of scrutiny — in this case “rent” — is believed to be something that does not exist.
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