Texas Tech University

Innovative Research

Robert McComb Awarded IAEE Best-Paper Prize

TTU Economist Evaluates 'Natural Resource Curse'

1.21.2021 | The College of Arts & Sciences

TTU economist Robert McComb, Ph.D.

Robert McComb, an associate professor in the Department of Economics, has been awarded the prestigious Campbell Watkins Best Paper Award for papers published in 2020 in The Energy Journal, the journal of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE).

Michael Pollitt, vice president for publications of the IAEE, noted: "The judging panel were impressed ... by its relevance, rigor and policy implications."

The paper, "Do localities benefit from natural resource extraction?", addresses the influence of the extractive industries on the economic growth of local economies. Now it joins the ranks of others papers so recognized over the past 20 years, authored by deeply respected economists.

Such highly developed—and awarded—research is not achieved overnight. Rather, it is the culmination of many years of scholarly discipline and dedication.

McComb said that he and his co-authors first began to look at the economics of renewable energy 10 to 12 years ago during their association with what was then Texas Tech University's Wind Science and Engineering Center, now the TTU National Wind Institute.

In those days, McComb was also working in TTU's Office of the Vice President for Research, charged with leveraging university resources that could contribute to the economic development of West Texas. The two missions converged and, over the years, expanded into an interest in energy and environmental economics.

Is There a 'Natural Resource Curse?'

"There is a question in economic research, known as the 'Natural Resource Curse,' that considers whether regions with substantial natural resource endowments exhibit lower long-term growth rates," McComb explained.

"This might arise if an economy specializes in the development and exploitation of its natural resources at the expense of other dynamic economic activities that offer higher long-term growth potential," he said. "We had an excellent opportunity to look for distortions in resource allocations in small geographies that might have occurred as a consequence of the rebound in oil and gas activity in Texas since 2000 and the emergence of new oil and gas producing regions. So, in essence, we were able to use an area with which we were familiar to gain insight into the ingredients that might lead to a natural resource curse."

What McComb and his colleagues found was that the county-level economies in Texas do not appear to experience significant changes in their industrial composition following a boom in oil and gas activity. But, these regions tend to benefit in terms of public finances and personal incomes above the median income.

"Most of the exploitation expertise appears to come from outside the local economy and thus tends to come and go over the course of a boom-bust cycle," he said, concluding that the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry over the shorter term does not appear to negatively impact the local economy over the long-term.

On the academic front, the work is ongoing. Like all worthy research, McComb's paper has laid a strong foundation for continuing study.

"We believe the paper will be of use to economists conducting research in this realm," McComb said, "and expect that it will add significant elements to this strand of research in natural resource and energy economics."

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