Regulating Quack Medicine
Originally published in Public Choice
Quack medicines were prepackaged, commercially marketed medicinal concoctions brewed from “secret recipes” that often contained powerful drugs. Governmental regulation of them in late nineteenth-century England is heralded as a landmark of public health policy. We argue that it’s instead a landmark of medicinal rent-seeking. We develop a theory of quack medicine regulation in Victorian England according to which health professionals faced growing competition from close substitutes: quack medicine vendors. To protect their rents, health professionals organized, lobbied, and won laws granting them a monopoly over the sale of “poisonous” medicaments, most notably, quack medicines.