Congress and the Rent-Seeking Society

Glenn R. Parker
A controversial study of Congress and the shifting balance between amateur and career politicians


Skillfully blending historical data with microeconomic theory, Glenn Parker argues that the incentives for congressional service have declined over the years, and that with that decline has come a change in the kind of person who seeks to enter Congress. The decline in the attractiveness of Congress is a consequence of congressional careerists and of the growth in the rent-seeking society, a term which describes the efforts of special interests to obtain preferential treatment by using the machinery of government—legislation and regulations.

Parker provides a fresh and controversial perspective to the debate surrounding the relative merits of career or amateur politicians. He argues that driving career politicians from office can have pernicious effects on the political system: it places the running of Congress in the hands of amateur politicians, who stand to lose little if they are found engaging in illegal or quasi-legal practices. On the other hand, career legislators risk all they have invested in their long careers in public service if they engage in unsavory practices. As Parker develops this controversial argument, he provides a fresh perspective on the debate surrounding the value of career versus amateur politicians.

Little attention has been given to the long-term impact of a rent-seeking society on the evolution of political institutions. Parker examines empirically and finds support for hypotheses that reflect potential symptoms of adverse selection in the composition of Congress: (1) rent-seeking politicians are more inclined than others to manipulate institutional arrangements for financial gain; (2) the rent-seeking milieu of legislators are more likely to engage in rent-seeking activity than earlier generations; (3) and the growth of rent-seeking activity has hastened the departure of career legislators.

Glenn R. Parker is Distinguished Research Professor, Florida State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Parker's application of rent-seeking theory makes a significant and innovative contribution to our knowledge of the U.S. Congress. Applying new theoretical perspectives to well-studied topics often yields important insights, and Parker's work is no exception."
    —Patrick J. Sellers, American Political Science Review
  • ". . . Parker presents compelling arguments which should be considered by proponents of term limits as well as by scholars of legislative politics."
  • "Congress and the Rent-Seeking Society study [sic] is packed with insights useful for explaining the current state of the Congress. . . . This is a significant contribution to our understanding of congressional behavior as well as our knowledge of interest group activity. . . . I recommend the book to advocates of congressional reform. Those who desire to end the seniority system should consider Parker's argument that seniority brings intrinsic rewards constraining rent seeking. Supporters of term limitations will find this study to be a useful counterargument in their debate."
    —John David Rausch, Jr., Congress & the Presidency

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 184pp.
  • figures, tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1996
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10662-2

Add to Cart
  • $89.95 U.S.