Private Cops on the Fraud Beat: The Limits of American Business Self-Regulation, 1895-1932
AbstractFrom the late 1890s through the 1920s, a new set of nonprofit, business-funded organizations spearheaded an American campaign against commercial duplicity. These new organizations shaped the legal terrain of fraud, built massive public-education campaigns, and created a private law-enforcement capacity to rival that of the federal government. Largely born out of a desire among business elites to fend off proposals for extensive regulatory oversight of commercial speech, the antifraud crusade grew into a social movement that was influenced by prevailing ideas about social hygiene and emerging techniques of private governance. This initiative highlighted some enduring strengths of business self-regulation, such as agility in responding to regulatory problems; it also revealed a key weakness, which was the tendency to overlook deceptive marketing when practiced by firms that were members of the business establishment.
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