My research is an integrated approach for understanding the impacts of American western settlement on development, the environment, and American Indian communities. I utilize historic, spatial and highly-granular observational data to understand the legal mechanisms that both underpinned western expansion, and also disenfranchised Indigenous inhabitants of land and resources.

Topic Areas:

  • Natural Resource and Environmental Economics

  • Economic History

  • Law and Economics; Finance

Beggar Thy Neighbor: Strategic Resource Depletion and Environmental Outcomes for Water Quality -- The Case of American Indian Water Rights
[Job Market Paper]

Abstract: Do legal processes for allocating rights impact a resource’s use and quality? In this paper I study how the process of resolving property rights affects resource use and externalities in the interim, and after resolution. Using a panel-data fixed-effects model, I show that negotiating for American Indian water rights in the western United States is associated with increases in pollution during negotiation (controlling for streamflow). These increases are most pronounced for pollutants related to increased human or agricultural development, and impacts are concentrated upstream and on reservations. I also find that once rights are settled, water use increases (evidenced by streamflow changes) and pollution declines, illustrating key predictions of the property rights literature that defined allocations help to mitigate pollution externalities. In addition, tribes that negotiate for non-consumptive environmental flow rights seem to mitigate a portion of the pollution increases post-agreement, with effects also concentrated in upstream and on-reservations areas.

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“Recognizing Rights in the Era of Appropriation: Understanding the Institutional Underpinnings and Evolving Legal Framework of U.S. Federal Indian Land Policies”
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Book chapter in the forthcoming Festschrift in Honor of Joe Kalt and Steve Cornell, edited by Miriam Jorgensen and Wayne Ducheneaux

Abstract: The U.S. government routinely used legal mechanisms to usurp U.S.-sanctioned property rights for Indian nations over the course of American history. Policies were explicitly introduced to disenfranchise tribes, eradicate governance structures on tribal nations, and transfer land and resources away from tribes. These policies worked to an extent – since colonization tribes have found themselves in a complicated maze of changing property rights as they relate to tribal and trust land. Nonetheless, as the era of self-determination has evolved, tribes have been able to strategically interface with U.S. institutions of their choosing, in order to further aims designated by their own nations. This chapter focuses on the evolution of property rights in the context of U.S.-tribal relations, and the institutional framework that engendered the system of appropriation that played out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the American west. I also present summary findings relating to American Indian reservation land loss during U.S. western settlement, indicating the importance of geologic and natural resources, but also of socio-economic factors in terms of the pattern of land loss.


Discounting Water: Calculating Risk Attitudes Towards Owning Rights to Water in the American West

Abstract: The headline story about long-unenforced and un-quantified American Indian reserved rights to water is that they impede development by engendering outsized uncertainty in water markets. This is due to the prolonged process of settling these rights and the amount of tribes that still have theoretical, but un-quantified, senior rights to water. In this paper, I calculate a measure of this uncertainty using wholesale water market transactions in western states by comparing lease-to-sales price differences using varying long-term lease durations. I find that uncertainty, as measured by the risk premium (compared to the risk-free rate), falls once negotiations for water commence, and once rights are settled. Using the bargaining literature, I also find evidence of entrenchment in that uncertainty continues to fall as negotiations expand out years, indicating strategic behavior in the negotiation process by status-quo appropriators. I also find the long-term discount rate for water is lower than the risk-free rate, in line with the environmental literature.