2016 Winners: Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode
Book: Arresting Contagion: Science, Policy, and Conflicts over Animal Disease Control (Harvard University Press)
Prize Committee Assessment:
A magisterial work of social science history, Arresting Contagion engages the interdisciplinary methods that the Award memorializes. Olmstead and Rhode rely on several disciplines necessary to their account: economic theory, political, social and environmental history, and the medical sciences. Contagious diseases in the economically vital livestock industry of the late 19th century United States presented an obdurate conflict between national and state interests, and between advocates of free markets and government regulation. While individuals, industries, states and localities might have strong economic reason to favor little regulation, communicable diseases and pathogens injurious to animals and humans were indifferent to these justifications and to jurisdictional boundaries. Arresting Contagion records the remarkable success of the Bureau of Animal Industry in asserting the national interest over that of individuals, industries, states and localities. The Bureau—established in 1884-- was among the first federal agencies to exercise more than nominal power in reshaping market activity. Achieving its goals of sanitary meat distribution often entailed significant losses for certain market actors. In assessing its successful campaign to control animal diseases, the authors deftly shift perspective. Case studies examine local politics in the United States, congressional debates over states' rights, and international disputes in an expanding global trade in livestock. In this account, science serves as the handmaiden to progress, but not without its own sharp divisions, especially over the germ theory of disease. The authors conclude that the agency's salutary, efficient exercise of federal power demonstrates the need for public interest rather than public choice models for government policy. The United States emerged, somewhat ironically, as an exemplar of appropriate government control, a paradigm the authors imply might have contemporary value.