NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Enduring Impact of the American Dust Bowl: Short and Long-run Adjustments to Environmental Catastrophe

Richard Hornbeck

NBER Working Paper No. 15605
Issued in December 2009
NBER Program(s):   DAE

The 1930's American Dust Bowl was an environmental catastrophe that greatly eroded sections of the Plains. Analyzing new data collected to identify low-, medium-, and high-erosion counties, the Dust Bowl is estimated to have immediately, substantially, and persistently reduced agricultural land values and revenues. During the Depression and through at least the 1950's, there was limited reallocation of farmland from activities that became relatively less productive. Agricultural adjustments, such as reallocating land from crops to livestock, recovered only 14% to 28% of the initial agricultural cost. The economy adjusted predominately through migration, rather than through capital inflows and increased industry.

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Published: Richard Hornbeck, 2012. "The Enduring Impact of the American Dust Bowl: Short- and Long-Run Adjustments to Environmental Catastrophe," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(4), pages 1477-1507, June.

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