Where are the rent seekers?

Arye L. Hillman, Heinrich W. Ursprung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In a remarkably simple and yet one of the most original and insightful observations of 20th century economics, Gordon Tullock pointed out that there are efficiency losses when public policies and political behavior create contestable rents. Tullock also observed that social losses from contesting rents appeared smaller than might be expected, so raising the question ‘where are the rent seekers?’ Tullock proposed that political accountability and ‘free-riding’ incentives in interest groups limit social losses from rent seeking. We affirm Tullock’s explanations, which apply differently under different political institutions. We compare Tullock with Gary Becker, who focused on deadweight losses from redistribution and concluded, in contrast to Tullock, that political redistribution is efficient. The comparison with Becker highlights the significance of the recognition of Tullock’s concept of rent seeking. By excluding rent-seeking losses from the social costs of redistribution, Becker could arrive at a conclusion more favorable than Tullock to an ideology that sees merit in extensive redistribution. Tullock’s model, although more encompassing of actual social costs of redistribution, would have been less welcome in the social democratic welfare state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-141
Number of pages18
JournalConstitutional Political Economy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Contest models
  • Gary Becker
  • Gordon Tullock
  • Income distribution
  • Interest groups
  • Rent creation
  • Rent seeking


Dive into the research topics of 'Where are the rent seekers?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this