Gordon Tullock Meets Phineas Gage: The Political Economy of Lobotomies in the United States
13 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2018 Last revised: 20 May 2019
Date Written: June 6, 2018
In the late 1940s, the United States experienced a “lobotomy boom” where the use of the lobotomy expanded exponentially. We engage in a comparative institutional analysis, following the framework developed by Tullock (2005), to explain why the lobotomy gained popularity and widespread use despite widespread scientific consensus it was ineffective. We argue that government provision and funding for public mental hospitals and asylums expanded and prolonged the use of the lobotomy. We support this claim by noting the lobotomy had virtually disappeared from private mental hospitals and asylums before the boom and was less used beforehand. This paper provides a more robust explanation for the lobotomy boom in the US and expands on the literate examining the relationship between state funding and scientific inquiry.
Keywords: lobotomies, economics of science, public choice, political economy, mental health
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