NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Determinants of Progressive Era Reform: The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906

Marc T. Law, Gary D. Libecap

NBER Working Paper No. 10984
Issued in December 2004
NBER Program(s):   DAE

We examine three theories of Progressive Era regulation: public interest, industry capture, and information manipulation by the federal bureaucracy and muckraking press. Based on analysis of qualitative legislative histories and econometric evidence, we argue that the adoption of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act was due to all three factors. Select producer groups sought regulation to tilt the competitive playing field to their advantage. Progressive reform interests desired regulation to reduce uncertainty about food and drug quality. Additionally, rent-seeking by the muckraking press and its bureaucratic allies played a key role in the timing of the legislation. We also find that because the interests behind regulation could not shape the enforcing agency or the legal environment in which enforcement took place, these groups did not ultimately benefit from regulation in the ways originally anticipated.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w10984

Published: The Determinants of Progressive Era Reform. The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906, Marc Law, Gary D. Libecap. in Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's Economic History, Glaeser and Goldin. 2006

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