The Origins of Economic Regulation in the United States: The Interstate Commerce and Bureau of Animal Industry Acts

Paul Rhode, Economics--University of Michigan
Alan Olmstead, University of California, Davis

Most accounts treat the Interstate Commerce Act (ICA) of 1887, which established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), as the first significant step in the growth of federal economic regulation. Theories of the rise of federal regulation typically focus on explaining the origins of the ICC, which was established to regulate railroads. But the ICC was neither the first, the most aggressive, nor the most important federal regulatory agency of the period; the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) founded in1884 was far more powerful and influential. The countervailing power and anti-competition paradigms common in framing the ICA are not useful for understanding the BAI Act. The BAI was designed to create an environment freer of contagious livestock diseases; essentially a global public good. It succeeded beyond its founders’ wildest expectations. However, its successes required an unprecedented peacetime expansion of federal police powers.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 80. Government and the Economy