A Fundamental Contradiction in Standard Rent Theory: A Case Study on Varian's "Intermediate Microeconomics"
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In this paper, I examine Varian’s treatment of rent in his textbook on Microeconomics. I argue that he holds contradictory conceptions: sometimes rent is defined as surplus over cost whereas sometimes it is defined as cost, as the opportunity cost of fixed factors. I start by arguing that the distinction between fixed and variable factors is not the key for the definition of rent; ultimately, it is monopoly. Varian’s conception of rent is, essentially, Ricardo’s: rent is extraordinary profit turned rent. On the basis of a selfinconsistent notion of opportunity cost, Varian introduces the idea that rent is the opportunity cost of land, when what he actually defines is the opportunity cost of not renting the land. I also critically examine the related notion of “producer’s surplus”, and show that Varian’s treatment repeats the same contradiction as in rent.