Environmental Catastrophe and the Direction of Invention: Evidence from the American Dust Bowl
61 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2021 Last revised: 15 Dec 2022
Date Written: September 15, 2021
This paper investigates how innovation responded to and shaped the economic impact of the American Dust Bowl, an environmental catastrophe that led to widespread soil erosion on the US Plains during the 1930s. Combining data on county-level erosion, the historical geography of crop production, and crop-specific innovation, I document that in the wake of the environmental crisis, agricultural technology development was strongly re-directed toward more Dust Bowl-exposed crops and, within crops, toward bio-chemical and planting technologies that could directly mitigate economic losses from environmental distress. County-level exposure to Dust Bowl-induced innovation significantly dampened the effect of land erosion on agricultural land values and revenue. These results highlight the role of crises in shaping the direction of innovation and the importance of endogenous technological progress as an adaptive force in the face of disasters.
Keywords: Climate adaptation, innovation, agriculture, Dust Bowl
JEL Classification: O13, O33, N52, Q55
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation