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Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s

50 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2003  

Zeynep K. Hansen

Washington University in St. 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

Abstract

We provide a new and more complete analysis of the origins of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, one of the most severe environmental crises in North America in the 20th Century. Severe drought and wind erosion hit the Great Plains in 1930 and lasted through 1940. There were similar droughts in the 1950s and 1970s, but no comparable level of wind erosion. We explain why. The prevalence of small farms in the 1930s limited private solutions for controlling the downwind externalities associated with wind erosion. Drifting sand from unprotected fields damaged neighboring farms. Small farmers cultivated more of their land and were less likely to invest in erosion control than were larger farmers. Soil Conservation Districts, established by government after 1937, helped coordinate erosion control. This "unitized" solution for collective action is similar to that used in other natural resource/environmental settings.

Keywords: externalities, common-pool, wind erosion, unitization

JEL Classification: Q24, Q28, N52, K11, K32, O13

Suggested Citation

Hansen, Zeynep K. and Libecap, Gary D., Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Journal of Political Economy, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=460622 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.460622

Zeynep Hansen

Washington University in St. 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 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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