IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/15699.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Elasticity of Demand With Respect to Product Failures; or Why the Market for Quack Medicines Flourished for More Than 150 Years

Author

Listed:
  • Werner Troesken

Abstract

Between 1810 and 1939, real per capita spending on patent medicines grew by a factor of 114; real per capita GDP by a factor of 5. The long-term growth and survival this industry is puzzling when juxtaposed with standard historical accounts, which typically portray patent medicines as quack medicines. This paper argues that patent medicines were distinguished from other products by an unusually low elasticity of demand with respect to product failure. While consumers in other markets stopped searching for a viable product after a few failed attempts, consumers of patent medicines kept trying different products, irrespective of the number of failed medicines they observed. The market expanded as the stock of people buying potential cures accumulated over time. Because no one was ever cured and consumers possessed a highly inelastic demand with respect to product failures, demand was unrelenting. In short, patent medicines flourished not despite their dubious medicinal qualities, but because of them. There is also evidence that genuine medical advances, such as the rise of the germ theory of disease and new therapeutic interventions, helped expand the market for quack medicines.

Suggested Citation

  • Werner Troesken, 2010. "The Elasticity of Demand With Respect to Product Failures; or Why the Market for Quack Medicines Flourished for More Than 150 Years," NBER Working Papers 15699, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15699
    Note: DAE
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w15699.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15699. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/nberrus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.