Policing the Marketplace: A History of Commercial Fraud in America


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the National Humanities Center during academic year 2009-2010


This history of commercial fraud in America investigates institutional responses to economic deceit, from an age of de facto caveat emptor in the nineteenth century, to an era of much more heavily regulated commercial speech in the early and mid-twentieth century, to the striking reemergence of fraud as a national problem amid the deregulation of recent decades. Key themes include: the tendency of capitalist innovation to generate new dilemmas about the boundaries of fraud; the competing influence of business interests, legal experts, and bureaucrats on fraud legislation and enforcement; the salience of social networks and standards of respectability in settling particular allegations of fraud; and the enduring importance and uneven performance of self-regulation by the American business community.