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Flip the Switch: The Spatial Impact of the Rural Electrification Administration 1935-1940

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  • Carl Kitchens
  • Price Fishback

Abstract

To isolate the impact of access to electricity on local economies, we examine the impact of the Rural Electrification Administration low-interest loans in the 1930s. The REA provided loans to cooperatives to lay distribution lines to farms and aid in wiring homes. Consequently, the number of rural farm homes electrified doubled in the United States within 5 years. We develop a panel data set for the 1930s and use changes within counties over time to identify the effect of the REA loans on a wide range of socio-economic measures. The REA loans contributed significantly to increases in crop output and crop productivity and helped stave off declines in overall farm output, productivity, and land values, but had much smaller effects on nonagricultural parts of the economy. The ex-ante subsidy from the low interest loans was large, but after the program was completed, nearly all of the loans were fully repaid, and the ultimate cost to the taxpayer was relatively low.

Suggested Citation

  • Carl Kitchens & Price Fishback, 2013. "Flip the Switch: The Spatial Impact of the Rural Electrification Administration 1935-1940," NBER Working Papers 19743, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19743
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19743.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Taryn Dinkelman, 2011. "The Effects of Rural Electrification on Employment: New Evidence from South Africa," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3078-3108, December.
    2. Kitchens, Carl, 2014. "The Role of Publicly Provided Electricity in Economic Development: The Experience of the Tennessee Valley Authority, 1929–1955," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 74(02), pages 389-419, June.
    3. Barham, Tania & Lipscomb, Molly & Mobarak, Ahmed Mushfiq, 2011. "Development Effects of Electrification: Evidence from the Geologic Placement of Hydropower Plants in Brazil," CEPR Discussion Papers 8427, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Michael Greenstone & Richard Hornbeck & Enrico Moretti, 2010. "Identifying Agglomeration Spillovers: Evidence from Winners and Losers of Large Plant Openings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(3), pages 536-598, June.
    5. Enrico Moretti, 2014. "Local Economic Development, Agglomeration Economies, and the Big Push: 100 Years of Evidence from the Tennessee Valley Authority," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(1), pages 275-331.
    6. Jason E. Taylor, 2011. "Work‐sharing During the Great Depression: Did the ‘President's Reemployment Agreement’ Promote Reemployment?," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 78(309), pages 133-158, January.
    7. Fishback, Price V. & Horrace, William C. & Kantor, Shawn, 2005. "Did New Deal Grant Programs Stimulate Local Economies? A Study of Federal Grants and Retail Sales During the Great Depression," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(01), pages 36-71, March.
    8. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian, 2004. "New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(4), pages 779-816, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Price Fishback, 2017. "How Successful Was the New Deal? The Microeconomic Impact of New Deal Spending and Lending Policies in the 1930s," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 55(4), pages 1435-1485, December.
    2. Clay, Karen & Lewis, Joshua & Severnini, Edson R., 2016. "Canary in a Coal Mine: Infant Mortality, Property Values, and Tradeoffs Associated with Mid-20th Century Air Pollution," IZA Discussion Papers 9884, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Kenneth Lee & Eric Brewer & Carson Christiano & Francis Meyo & Edward Miguel & Matthew Podolsky & Javier Rosa & Catherine Wolfram, 2014. "Barriers to Electrification for "Under Grid" Households in Rural Kenya," NBER Working Papers 20327, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • O38 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Government Policy

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