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How the True Parasites from the Private Sector Suck the System Dry

The real "takers" in America are the unproductive rich .

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On the right, the greatest triumph of the rentier interests has been to redefine “capitalist” to mean, not productive entrepreneur or successful industrial company executive, but “anybody who makes money” — a category that includes not only investors in productive enterprises but also rentiers and a third category of speculators in unproductive assets (Picasso paintings and Persian rugs, as opposed to machine tool factories). In today’s rentier-friendly conservative ideology, somebody who makes payday loans at usurious interest rates, gouges businesses with high insurance rates, or gets paid tolls from a privatized toll road is as much a “maker” and an “entrepreneur” and a “capitalist” as someone who puts together a team of inventors, engineers, workers and investors to apply 3-D printing to printing replacement body parts. All money-making enterprises are supposed to be equally productive and socially useful, for no other reason than they make somebody rich.

A case can be made that the greatest threat to the future of industrial capitalism comes, not from excessive statism, but from the excessive share of the economy going to the “private taxation” of productive business by unproductive, parasitic private rentier interests. In the U.S., the rentier sector is sometimes described as the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector. The FIRE sector accounts for most of the rent-seeking in the U.S., although it does not include energy/mineral rentier interests or professional associations.

Without invoking a conspiracy, we can identify a Rentier Agenda that is harmful both to productive business and ordinary wage earners but promotes the policy goals of many of America’s large and influential rentier interests, particularly those in finance. The Rentier Agenda has three broad components: low taxes on rentiers, privatization of natural monopolies, and a macroeconomic policy driven by fear of inflation.

 

 
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