Privately Preventing Malaria in the United States, 1900-1925


  • Byron Carson Hampden-Sydney College


This article explores the collective action problem of disease prevention by developing the conditions under which people engage in private means of mosquito control and malaria prevention. People are more likely to overcome problems related to collective action and free riding when they face financial rewards or when they lower transactions costs related to monitoring and enforcement. These conditions hold especially when they can tie the collective good of prevention with complementary private goods, and when they can form associations and firms that encourage prevention. These conditions are developed with reference to the American experience with malaria in the early twentieth century, and, in particular, private efforts to eliminate mosquitos and lower malaria prevalence rates. The persistence of malaria in the southern United States supports this logic too, as the private benefits of prevention there were lower than the costs. This study shows that the scope for individual responses to changing prevalence rates is wider than typically assumed.