Studies of regulation in the United States often assume that the federal government has been the major initiator of regulatory behavior and that the emergence of a regulatory state has been a modern phenomenon. This view, to some degree, belies the experience of the U.S. states, who engaged in regulatory behavior prior to the Civil War. In this paper, I utilize data on the adoption of telegraph regulation policies by the U.S. states in the 1840s and 1850s (when the telegraph was new and cutting-edge technology) in an attempt to gain purchase on what explains the rise of regulatory behavior in an era considered to be largely devoid of such activity. Using pooled event history analysis to fully capture temporal and cross-sectional variation in state policy adoption activity and employing a bevy of explanatory variables across multiple empirical specifications, I find evidence suggesting that the emergence of mass public schooling corresponds with a greater likelihood of regulatory behavior. I argue that mass schooling (usually financed through public taxation) helped create legitimacy in the view that government should utilize policymaking power toward the public good, which furthered regulatory behavior. I find additional evidence that public schooling also corresponds with state enactment of three progressive policies: allowing the general incorporation of firms, allowing married women to own property, and allowing for homestead exemption for debt obligations. The result potentially sheds light on the emergence of regulatory behavior in the U.S. states in the nineteenth century and may help us understand attempts to deprofessionalize American state government in the twenty-first century.
Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 2 Special Issue: Antebellum Political Economy: Articles Overview
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