Dissertation Overview

My dissertation, which will be completed in spring of 2020, will provide a comprehensive theoretical and empirical analysis of rural natural resource dependence in the United States. By evaluating demographic and economic data from 1970-2017, my analysis will provide three main contributions concerning what it means for a rural county to be dependent on their local environment for economic development, whether it be for extractive (e.g. coal, timber, mining) or non-extractive (e.g. tourism, amenities) natural resource development. First, I will theoretically ground natural resource dependence within sociological theory surrounding spatially uneven development and dependence by arguing that natural resource dependence represents a special case of economic dependence where local natural resource abundance facilitates higher levels of exploitation from both extractive and non-extractive interests due to the placement of the community within the national and global capitalist system. Second, I will test and compare the historical impact of extractive and non-extractive natural resource development on income growth, poverty, and inequality, providing an evaluation of how natural resource development affects income, and its distribution, over time. Third, I will use the models of impacts to income growth, poverty, and inequality to identify empirical thresholds of dependence. I will then evaluate trends and transitions in socioeconomic well-being for extractive and non-extractive natural resource dependent counties from 1970-2017.

 

 

Article 1: Natural Resource Dependence: A Theory of the Dual Dependence of Resource Rich Areas in Rural America

Abstract: Spatially uneven development represents a wicked problem for rural people and places. Research has shown that underdevelopment is more likely in natural resource dependent communities than in places with non-natural resource based economies. While researchers have investigated the linkages between natural resource dependence and negative socioeconomic outcomes, the need for a middle-range theory of resource dependence in the United States remains. In this paper I develop a theory of rural natural resource dependence, addressing both extractive (e.g. mining, timber) and non-extractive development (e.g tourism, real estate) in the United States. I draw on three bodies of literature—the resource curse literature from economics, the resource dependence literature from natural resource sociology, and the critical literature of uneven development—to argue that rural natural resource dependence represents a special case of the core-periphery relationship, wherein rural resource rich areas form a dual-dependence upon both the global capitalist economy and the local natural environment. This dual-dependence results in targeted exploitation from natural resource interests. Due to the lack of within-country economic regulation and the free movement of capital, external interests can use their power to pressure rural economies to develop in specific directions outside of the best interest of local residents. While historically these interests were predominately focused on natural resource extraction, they have continued pivoting to non-extractive interests. When viewed this way I argue that non-extractive interests, while pushing a different use of the resource base, do not qualitatively vary in their exploitative relationship with rural communities in the United States.

Working paper available upon request.


Article 2: Testing the ‘resource curse’ at the county level from 1970-2017 in rural U.S. counties: The differential impacts of extractive, and non-extractive, development on income growth, poverty, and inequality

I will assemble a county-level dataset that includes extractive and non-extractive natural resource related income and employment, overall income, poverty, inequality, labor force participation, and other demographic characteristics, from 1970 to 2017. Data will be drawn from three sources: the Decennial Census, the American Community Survey (ACS), and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) Local Area Personal Income and Employment data. I will focus on exclusively rural counties due to the rural nature of natural resource development. The analysis will compare the impacts of both extractive and non-extractive natural resource related income and employment on decennial income growth, poverty, and inequality. The rationale for evaluating the effects of three dependent variables serves to both test and compare the findings presented in the resource curse literature, which has reported anemic levels of income growth due to higher levels of natural resource associated income and employment, as well as the resource dependence literature, which has historically found associations between higher levels of natural resource extraction and higher levels of poverty. Additionally, given the high-levels of inequality present in rural America, testing the economic influence of natural resource development without considering the distribution of that income would be ignoring a major component of how development is experienced in rural America.

The overall theoretical framework of my dissertation will position natural resource dependent counties as highly exploited by the national economy. Therefore, I expect that as the portion of income and employment from the natural resource sector rises, inequality and poverty will rise at a faster rate than income growth slows. Due to the oft-reported mixed results in the literature, as well as the precedent that dependence has some threshold at which we believe dependence occurs—I expect these relationships to all be nonlinear—meaning a natural threshold will exist where we see the relationships either accelerate or taper. It is unlikely that a small amount of natural resource employment and income would result in marked increases to income growth, poverty, or inequality, however, prior literature and theory suggests that high amounts of natural resource employment and income may.


Article 3: Trends and transitions in natural resource dependence in rural America from 1970-2017: Extractive dependence, non-extractive dependence, and hybrid dependence

I will create a new classification of natural resource dependence for both extractive and non-extractive uses of the local environment as the primary driver of the local economy. The overall natural resource dependence classification will be stratified by two non-mutually exclusive categories: extractive and non-extractive dependence. Because rural economies can have competing uses, allowing a county to be both dependent on extractive and non-extractive uses, which I term hybrid dependence, acknowledges the wide variation possible in rural economies. Unlike previous classifications of dependence, I will use the models from Article 1 to empirically determine the thresholds of diminishing societal returns from increased market concentration of natural resource related industries.

I will evaluate trends in socioeconomic well-being by overall, extractive, non-extractive, and hybrid natural resource dependence from 1970 – 2017. Beyond basic trends I will also explore trends associated with those rural counties in the United States that transitioned from extractive dependence to non-dependent, or from extractive dependence to non-extractive/hybrid dependence. This will determine whether or not those counties that transitioned to either amenity based natural resource related economies or to economies not dependent on natural resources have had better socioeconomic outcomes over the past 5 decades than those which remained dependent on extractive development.