Rent-Seeking for Madness: The Political Economy of Mental Asylums in the US, 1870 to 1910

34 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2019 Last revised: 27 May 2020

See all articles by Vincent Geloso

Vincent Geloso

Bates College; University of Western Ontario - King's University College

Raymond March

North Dakota State University - Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics; North Dakota State University - NDSU Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise

Date Written: May 26, 2020

Abstract

From the end of the Civil War to the onset of the Great War, the United States experienced an unprecedented increase in commitment rates for mental asylums. Historians and sociologists often explain this increase by noting that public sentiment called for widespread involuntary institutionalization to avoid the supposed threat of insanity to social well-being. However, this explanation neglects the increased role of rent-seeking within psychiatry and the broader medical field over the same period. In this paper, we argue that increased political influence from mental healthcare providers contributed significantly to the rise in institutionalization. We test our claim empirically by using the taxonomy of medical regulations from 1870 to 1910, as well as primary sources documenting rates of insanity at the state level. Our findings provide an alternative explanation for the historical rise in institutionalization within the US.

Keywords: Rent-Seeking, Health Policy, American Economic History, Asylums

JEL Classification: I18, N31, N32

Suggested Citation

Geloso, Vincent and March, Raymond, Rent-Seeking for Madness: The Political Economy of Mental Asylums in the US, 1870 to 1910 (May 26, 2020). NDSU Public Choice and Private Enterprise Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3421728 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3421728

Vincent Geloso (Contact Author)

Bates College ( email )

Department of Economics
Lewiston, ME
United States

University of Western Ontario - King's University College ( email )

266 Epworth Avenue
London, Ontario N6A 2M3
Canada

Raymond March

North Dakota State University - Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics ( email )

Fargo, ND 58105
United States

North Dakota State University - NDSU Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise

811 2nd Ave N.
Fargo, ND 58102
United States

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