Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rent Seeking in History and Hollywood

Government and the Economy in "The Aviator"

by Dirk Mateer

Rent seeking, the political pursuit of gains that would not be earned engaging in the market process, is a common theme in many films. With clips from the acclaimed 2004 film “The Aviator,” the discussion of rent seeking can be broadened to include the related concept of regulatory capture. After Pan Am leader Juan Trippe (played by Alec Baldwin) is unable to convince TWA’s Howard Hughes (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio) not to offer competing flights across the Atlantic, Trippe turns to Senator Owen Brewster (played by Alan Alda) to introduce a Civil Aviation Bill that would hamper TWA’s ability to compete with Pan Am. The clips illustrate the gains, in this case campaign contributions, prestigious committee chairmanship, and personal travel, that politicians can receive from pushing rent seeking legislation such as that favoring Pan Am.