Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jul 24 (1935) Dust Bowl Heat Wave: Woody Guthrie wonders "will I always be a dust bowl refugee?"

Along the highway near Bakersfield, California. Dust bowl refugees, pic from loc.gov

Today in 1935, temperatures reached 104 degrees in Chicago, marking the peak of the Dust Bowl heat wave.

A 2012 paper published in the American Economic Review found that the Dust Bowl had both short and long-term economic consequences. The author, Richard Hornbeck, attributes most of the eventual rebound to the local economies adjusting to a reduced population. Heavily eroded areas recovered at most 25% of their productive use.

Credit constraints driven by weak banks, numerous bank failures, and reduced land values didn't help. Alternative farming enterprises--such as cultivating livestock--required large capital investments, and farmers had a hard time finding banks willing or able to lend.

Woody Guthrie must have sensed the long-term consequences of the Dust Bowl when he wrote in 1940:

I'm a dust bowl refugee,
I'm a dust bowl refugee,
I wonder will I always be
A dust bowl refugee?

Listen to the entire song here.
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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.