Rent-seeking. This is a major factor in business today. I know this from personal experience and speak of it from the point of view of the business space lessee. I was one (was, because we sold our successful venture); and the misappropriation of a part of our rent for undeserved landlord profit was enough to discourage me in the future from opening another business in a space that I do not own myself.
As you read through the classics of economics (Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Alfred Marshall), you begin to understand the idea of "rent" and its complexities. In economics, the word "rent" has a special meaning.
Rent, as most people understand it, is what you pay for your apartment or your commercial space; but in economics, "rent" is sometimes divided into several sums. The first is the compensation to the landlord for his preparation and maintenance of the land, and perhaps for the construction of the building he placed upon it. This part (let's call it Rent 1), is a normal income and profit that anyone would need to receive, in order to be motivated to prepare land and buildings for someone else's use. It is market-inspired and market-justified. No one and nothing should interfere with Rent 1.
Sometimes an apartment, a piece of agricultural land, or a commercial space becomes more expensive than it ordinarily would in minimal market-equilibrium circumstances. It brings in more "rent" than would be sufficient to cover Rent 1. This portion of extra rent (let's call it Rent 2) could be due to some special labor on the part of the landlord. Perhaps he has created an especially nice apartment, or he has leveled a field and taken out all the rocks. This is also justified profit and should return to the landlord.
Sometimes, however, the price of an apartment or a commercial space goes up a third ratchet, not because of the landlord's building or his work, but because of his tenant's extra work, or simply because of the land's situation. This we could call Rent 3.
[Thanks to Wikepedia for the photo.]
A fellow named Henry George wrote a bestseller back in the late 19th century, called "Progress and Poverty." He understood the inequities of the Rents 1 & 2 vs. Rent 3 dichotomy. He proposed a fascinating solution. (See below.)
In today's blog, however, I just wish to point out that from personal experience I can tell you that all rents should be returned to those who create them. In most cases, the landlord does not furnish all the work behind Rent 2 (even though he may sometimes have a role to play), but it is often the business person who spends the effort in fitting out the space and in carrying on his business in a professional way who is the real originator of Rent 2. Often, it is not the landlord who improves the land, but rather the farmer who toils it alone. Those portions of Rent 2 should return to their creators.
Sometimes, it is even the municipality in which a building is located that deserves a lot of the credit. Henry George supporters use the example of a skyscraper in the middle of the desert that would be worth nothing and would bring in no rent. The very same skyscraper in the middle of New York brings in millions. Should the landlord be the only one to profit from this true "windfall?" (And this is one of the few times when the phrase is appropriate.) After all, you cannot make more of Park Avenue. The supply is limited ("inelastic," in economic terms.)
Read Henry George's work
and the solution he proposes. Some places have implemented it, and it works. The book is a great read. The man had a way with words, and he makes as much sense today as he did over 100 years ago. (Anecdote: Agnes de Mille was his niece, I believe.)