Rentier Capitalism: Eye-watering anecdotes and trillion-pound outrages

Book review: Brett Christophers is a prolific writer of sprawling, argumentative prose in this crackling thesis on a cruel economic order

“Orientated around ‘owning’ rather than ‘doing’, there is nothing innovative or entrepreneurial about rentiership.” Photograph: Getty Images

“Orientated around ‘owning’ rather than ‘doing’, there is nothing innovative or entrepreneurial about rentiership.” Photograph: Getty Images

Originally a French term, the rentier carries a vampiric odour, redolent of the Ancien Régime or the British landowning aristocracy: tapping gargantuan nourishment from the rent and toil of peasants on its vast estates.

The Irish Ascendancy were similarly perfumed by Maria Edgeworth’s novel, Castle Rackrent (1800), its crumbling pile mismanaged by the effete, dissolute family heirs. Decades before the Famine, “rackrent” became the catchphrase for brutally excessive rents extracted on pain of dispossession, perhaps even death on the roads.

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