Monday, May 12, 2014

No, transferring federal land to Utah wouldn't help our economy

Utah has been in the news of late because several local politicians want the federal government to cede its vast land holdings in Utah to the state itself. Rep Ken Ivory, one of the biggest proponents of this, has often asserted that the land transfer would bring jobs to the state. Like in this tweet:

Well, would the land transfer bring jobs to the state? If that's indeed the case, we'd expect states with less federally controlled land to be doing better economically. To evaluate this, I’ve made a scatterplot of unemployment by state (data from here) vs percentage of federal land holdings per state (data from here). You can judge whether Rep Ivory’s economic thinking is accurate:

Of course, if there were a strong relationship between these two variables, we'd expect the points to lie along a 45 degree angle. This doesn't happen; instead, the linear regression line is nearly vertical. In addition, the R^2 values of 0.01 and -0.01 show that there is no discernible effect of federally owned land on state unemployment rate. Interestingly, Utah and Nevada, the two states with the two highest percentages or federal land holdings, are nearly opposite of each other in terms of recent economic performance.

Note: there will be a debate on this land transfer issue at SLC's main library on Wednesday at 7PM. It will be between Reps Ivory and Lockhart on one side, and University of Utah professor Dan McCool and former BLM director Pat Shea on the other.

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