March, 2019

Regulating Quack Medicine

  • Peter Leeson

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Tate Fegley

    PhD Fellow
  • Scott King

    Program Manager, Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University
Additional details

Read the article here.

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.