U.S. Land Policy, Property Rights, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s

50 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2001  

Zeynep K. Hansen

Washington University in Saint Louis - John M. Olin Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Gary D. Libecap

University of California, Santa Barbara - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management; University of Arizona - Karl Eller Center; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: September 2001

Abstract

The process of assigning property rights to land in the American Great Plains resulted in farms that were too small to be economically viable. These farms were prime contributors to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The path dependence resulting from the initial assignment of property rights on the Great Plains was slow to be corrected. The transactions costs of property rights reallocation from homesteads to larger farms were high, in part due to government intervention. Local politicians sought to retain the dense, Midwest-like population base that homestead settlement had fostered, and they successfully lobbied the Federal Government for subsidies to maintain small family farms. The result was a halting process of farm size adjustment between 1920 and 1982. This case illustrates the difficult economic problems that can be raised by an inappropriate assignment of property rights. It cannot be assumed that a more efficient allocation of rights with fewer negative effects will occur quickly.

Keywords: Property rights, Coase, Dust Bowl

JEL Classification: Q2, N4, N5, L5

Suggested Citation

Hansen, Zeynep K. and Libecap, Gary D., U.S. Land Policy, Property Rights, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s (September 2001). FEEM Working Paper No. 69.2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=286699 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.286699

Zeynep Kocabiyik Hansen

Washington University in Saint Louis - John M. Olin Business School ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1133
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Gary D. Libecap (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management ( email )

4670 Physical Sciences North
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5131
United States
805-893-8611 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.esm.ucsb.edu/people/usernew.asp?user=glibecap

University of Arizona - Karl Eller Center ( email )

McClelland Hall
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
United States
520-621-4821 (Phone)
520-626-5269 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.bpa.arizona.edu/~libecap

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

2048 Analysis Drive
Suite A
Bozeman, MT 59718
United States

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