Thesis Statement About The Stock Market Crash Of 1929

Index of Contents




2. THE 1920s
2.1 The Economic Development after World War
2.2 Return to the Gold Standard
2.3 International Trade and Capital Flows
2.4 The Stock Market Boom and the Response of the Federal Reserve System

3.1 Stock Market Crash on Wall Street
3.1.1 What caused the Crash?
3.1.2 The Economic Downturn after the Crash of
3.2. Banking Crises
3.2.1 The 1930Banking Crisis
3.2.2 The 1931 Banking Crises Onset of the First 1931 Banking Crisis Onset of the Second 1931 Banking Crisis
3.2.3 The 1933 Banking Crisis
3.2.4 Economic Consequences of the Banking Crises Money Supply Channel Credit Channel Interest Rate Uncertainty Channel
3.3 Debt Deflation
3.3.1 Threat to Banks and other Financial Intermediaries
3.4 The Gold Standard between 1929-
3.4.1 The Four Structural Flaws Asymmetry of the Interwar Gold Standard Foreign Exchange Reserves Absence of Power of Central Banks Gold Standard Disparities
3.4.2 The Gold Standard as a Driving Force in the Depression
3.5 Rigidity of Nominal Wages
3.6 World Tariffs
3.7 Hoover’s Liquidationist Theory




List of Figures

Figure 1: Industrial Production Index (1920=100)

Figure 2: Nominal Gross National Product & Consumer Price Index (1920=100)

Figure 3: Development of the Fed’s Discount Rate 1923-1933

Figure 4: Dow Jones Industrial Average Index 1920-

Figure 5: Number of Suspended Banks

Figure 6: Deposit to Reserve Ratio/ Deposit to Currency Ratio/ Money Multiplier/ Money Supply

Figure 7: Depiction of Money Supply M1 and Monetary Base (left side), Deposit to Currency Ratio (right side)

Figure 8: U.S.: Spread between Corporate Bonds (Baa) and 10 year Treasury Bonds

Figure 9: Wholesale Price Indices (1929=100)

Figure 10: Industrial Production (1929=100).

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

Within macroeconomics, economists agree that there were a number of contributing factors that led to the Great Depression. However, most of the discussion is about what was responsible for the depth and the length of this economic event. In the four years starting in the summer of 1929 until 1933, financial markets and institutions, labor markets as well as international currency and goods markets had stopped functioning and it seemed that economic and monetary policy remained helpless in that period.

To analyze the Great Depression, Friedman and Schwartz supply one of the most critical but popular explanations. They focus on the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System (hereinafter Fed) of the United States (hereinafter U.S.) since the Fed allowed a severe contraction in money supply in the period of 1929 - 1933, even though the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 delegated monetary actions by the Fed to avoid such monetary contraction. Friedman and Schwartz claim that the severeness of monetary contraction resulted from the Fed’s passive response to the banking panics in the 1930s when the public increased sharply its demand for currency.[1]

However, they admit that the Fed conducted a successful policy during most of the 1920s until a “shift in power within the system and the lack of understanding and experience of those individuals to whom the power shifted”[2] occurred. Herein, they point to the death of Benjamin Strong the Governor of the New York Federal Reserve Bank who had the sagacity and leadership to take measures that would have avoided the Great Depression. Thus, they maintain that monetary contraction in the period of 1929 - 1933 induced the Great Depression due to a misguided policy by the Fed that was eventually in authority for the downturn in economic activity.[3]

This U.S. centric attempted explanation by Friedman and Schwartz is surely a good approach in analyzing the issues in the domestic economy. However, in regard to the development of the depression both authors blanked out not only international economic and political factors but also structural problems in other important economies that contributed considerably to this severe crisis. As an analysis of the length and the depth of the Great Depression, this approach by Friedman and Schwartz is truly insufficient. But due to the complexity and magnitude it is difficult for the sake of space to give a clear depiction of this worldwide economic contraction. As the Great Depression was most severe in the U.S., the intention of this paper is to analyze and focus on the main causes that led to the depression in the U.S. and thus to question the theory of Friedman and Schwartz.

For that, this paper is split into three parts. In part one the events of the 1920s shall be traced to give an overview of the economic unfolding, the return to the gold standard and the subsequent 1929 stock market boom. Part two, is a careful analysis of possible causes that eventually led to the economic slump, starting first with the stock market crash to approach the question how this event contributed to the economic downturn. The focus will then shift to the banking crises that became severe beginning in 1930. The author will identify to what extent the banking crises played a role in the monetary contraction and how they influenced real economic activity. Irving Fisher’s thought on debt deflation will also be explained to assess how much debt deflation worsened the economic situation. Following the banking crises and debt deflation, substantial research will be made on the gold standard. The aim is to expose the structural flaws to explain how those flaws contributed to a malfunction of the gold standard that may have been the driving force of the depression. Further study will also contain the effect of nominal wage rigidity on the real economy by using the neoclassical and Keynesian view to judge the importance of sticky wages. Given the world tariffs during the depression, the paper will investigate their significance in driving the economy down. The research on the causes will then be concluded with Hoover’s Liquidationist theory since Hoover followed a purely orthodox policy, which is not consistent to the Keynesian view. The third and final part will exclusively contain the economic recovery. Herein, it will be commented on the factors that induced economic recovery and to what extent governmental intervention enhanced economic conditions.

2. The 1920s

The causes for the Great Depression are manifold but it is commonly agreed that they were in a high degree enforced by the aftermaths of World War I and the economic as well as political environment of the 1920s.[4] To quote Parker: “The Great Depression, and the economic catastrophe that it was, is perhaps properly scaled in reference to the decade that preceded it, the 1920s.”[5] This statement underscores the critical need of looking at the macroeconomic and political environment in the U.S. and the development in regards to the stock market boom. This chapter will give review to the economic development, the return to the gold standard, international capital flows and trade as well as the monetary policy of the Fed during the stock market boom before the crash in 1929 took place.

2.1 The Economic Development after World War I

After a short recession in 1920 and 1921 the U.S. economy recovered rapidly and it was felt that a new era had opened up. From a macroeconomic perspective this decade was characterized by vigorous economic growth. Between July 1921 and July 1929, U.S. industrial production rose by 99 %, implying average annual growth of 9.1 % per year (see figure l)[6] Additional calculations in figure 2 show that in the same time the nominal gross national product (hereinafter GNP) achieved average annual growth of 5.1 % at consumer prices swinging around a horizontally or slightly decreasing trend.[7] In an international comparison this economic strength can be highlighted by the fact that the U.S. produced approximately 50 % of the world’s industrial output.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Nominal Gross National Product & Consumer Price Index (1920=100)

(Source: Own illustration, Data retrieved from International Historical Statistics, 1998, p. 708 ff.)

In the beginning of the 1920s the quality of economic growth changed essentially in the U.S. The increase in GNP was not mainly achieved by a quantitative rise in input factors but mostly due to the boost of total factor productivity.[8] Hence, this economic development can mainly be explained by the great expansion in scientific and technological research that pushed productivity of each employee.[9] Between 1919 and 1929 productivity increased by 3.6 % on average per year, while nominal wage and price adjustments remained relatively unchanged. The outcomes of this were higher corporate profits that stimulated new brisk investments causing the production of producer goods to grow on average by 6.4 % per year.[10] Along with the increase in productivity and investment activity, institutional alterations in the banking system and simplifications in stock exchange trading gave also new growth impulses.[11] This was enforced through new borrowing facilities, which changed the consumption behavior of households, unincorporated business, small corporations and farmers[12] as they increased their debt to purchase durable goods e.g. automobiles, radios and refrigerators, inducing substantial growth in the market of durable consumer goods. [13] Although economic growth was disrupted by two separate periods of economic slowdown between 1923-1924 and 1926-1927[14], most of the 1920s can economically be seen as a prosperous and good functioning decade[15] ; monetary policy seemed also to be neutral as money supply developed parallel to the GNP at a constant velocity of money.[16]

2.2 Return to the Gold Standard

The gold standard was suspended at the outbreak of World War I. By 1928 major countries such as Germany, Great Britain and France but also a lot of other countries had rejoined the system of a fixed exchange rate gold standard.[17] The U.S. was the only country that remained on gold through the war.[18]

The idea behind this system of the international gold standard is the stabilization of the economies through the price-specie flow mechanism. Herein lies the idea of ‘the rules of the game’ where countries importing gold are supposed to expand credit and countries exporting gold are supposed to contract credit.[19] In detail, country’s monetary authority experiencing gold inflows and thus increasing the amount of reserves, is supposed to raise the money supply, so that the domestic price level reflates due to a domestic economic boom. Country’s monetary authority experiencing a gold outflow is supposed to decrease money supply and deflate. This sequence of the price- specie flow mechanism generates a stabilizing equilibrium in the money market and maintains therefore the fixed exchange rate.[20] If such strong relation between domestic gold reserves and domestic money supply is not continued through the appropriate policy by central banks, domestic price levels could significantly diverge inducing a financial crisis or endanger the convertibility to gold.

However, all these arguments and surely the widespread dissatisfaction about the messy monetary and financial situation that followed the war (e.g. the hyperinflation in Germany, Central Europe and elsewhere) convinced countries to reconstruct the gold standard and thus to improve economic conditions.[21] Nevertheless, the assumed gold standard benefits did not occur, as it will be shown later in this essay.

2.3 International Trade and Capital Flows

After World War I the international trade pattern altered in favor for the U.S. and weakened the economic position especially for European countries.

These countries became in regard to capital as well as merchandise trade very dependent on the U.S.[22] Soaring productivity in the sector of manufacturing and agriculture improved the international competitive position of the U.S. and switched the trade pattern into a surplus. [23] However, the continuous increase of protectionism in the U.S. through the Fordney McCumber Act in 1922 raised the tariff burden by 30 %. Even though, it was a welfare reducing move by the U.S. Congress, this tariff law was introduced especially to protect against cheap imports and also to ensure price stability in the agriculture sector, which still suffered from its own economic difficulties. (As agricultural difficulties are not being seen as a direct cause for the Great Depression in the U.S., an analysis on this issue will not be conducted but is discussed in detail in Kindleberger (1973)). Besides, imports of industry products from Japan and Germany were substantially limited. Hence, this new U.S. tariff policy significantly contributed to the instability of the international trade system and contradicted to the role of the U.S. as a net loan creditor vis-a-vis other countries. Especially for European countries it became difficult to increase their income from exports to the serve their U.S. liabilities.

After the war, international borrowing by European countries was necessary and had been used to service their war guilt instead of using it for productive domestic investments,.[24] resulting in a chain of dependencies. Germany, which could not amass the sum of capital to pay reparations to France and Great Britain, relied on U.S. lending. Then both countries used these payments from Germany to set off their war debts to the U.S., which induced high capital flows. To maintain this payment cycle lending from the U.S. to Germany was indispensable.[25] But not only for Germany was the U.S. the dominant lender. The U.S. reinvested this money and became for a large part of Europe the main investor to rebuild these devastated economies as well as for other parts of the world. Indeed, those achievements were only functioning as long as interest in the U.S. remained low, encouraging U.S. capital to seek profitable investment overseas. This development became so strong that it even reduced the acquisition of gold in the U.S. and eventually led to a gold outflow in the second half of 1927[26]

As it should have been noted, many countries in Europe became very dependent on U.S. investments and eventually from its economic stability. But this dependency was additionally enforced through the gold standard, and thus, put those countries into a very vulnerable situation. (A detailed analysis will be given in chapter 3.4.)[27]

2.4 The Stock Market Boom and the Response of the Federal Reserve System

Despite growing prosperity, the national economic development exhibited a severe weakness. The relative increase of corporate profits to real wages in the 1920s as mentioned in chapter 2.1 led to a significant bottom up redistribution of income and assets ,[28] which found its peak just at the start of the Great Depression in 1929.[29] In reference to a lower marginal propensity this income redistribution resulted in a higher savings rate and a lower consumption rate, which raised two problems. First, higher savings

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Figure 3: Development ofthe Fed’s Discount Rate 1923-1933

(Source: Based on Friedman, M./ Schwartz, A. J., 1963, p. 282)

accompanied by a convenient discount rate level starting in 1924, as shown in figure 3, which apparently resulted from the economic downturn between 1923 - 1924, induced a stream of liquidity into the capital market. Thus, many economists such as Aschinger give the low level of discount rate an important role in the enforcement of the stock market boom beginning in the second half of the 1920s[30] Second, income redistribution, which went at the expense of workers, also caused concern as consumption began to stagnate. The subsequent consequence was a saturated market, which led to the emergence of overcapacities. The market was not able to absorb these overcapacities since export possibilities were limited as foreign countries gradually established trade barriers and international demand struggled, too.[31] Eventually the result was a slight decline in U.S. industrial production in the first half of 1927 as one can see in figure 1.

The Federal Open Market Investment Committee and the Federal Reserve Board commented on the occurrence of a recession as the demand in the durable goods industry declined. Having this minor recession as well as a gradually increase in stock market speculation the Fed began to approach a conflict of goals. To counter a progression of a stock market speculation a discount rate increase only might have been advisable.[32] In the second half of1926, the Fed already increased its discount rate by 50 basis points to 4 %, which led to a slight decrease in the money stock.

However as the economy weakened, Benjamin Strong who was reluctant to use monetary policy to stem the stock market boom responded with an expansive monetary policy and initiated a reduction of the Fed’s discount rate down to 3.5 %. This event encouraged gold to flow out and thus helped to satisfy the demand for gold in foreign countries especially in Great Britain, which was continuously experiencing a balance of payments deficit. Thus, the expansionary path by the Fed was desirable from a domestic and international point of view. Although, it seems doubtful that the Fed took the effects of its policies on foreign policies into account, it was an admirable example of international cooperation.[33][34] It even undermined the broad belief the reestablishment of the gold standard may function deflationary. (A closer analysis on this will be conducted in chapter 3.4.) As a result, expectations turned optimistic toward future business. However, Friedman and Schwartz blame this discount rate cut as it smoothed the way for the subsequent speculative stock market bubble beginning in 1928 where stock purchases were mostly leveraged.[35] Therefore, it was common to muster not even half of the capital oneself.[36]

When the consequence for this monetary easing became apparent the Fed ignored international considerations for its further measures of monetary policy. The Fed saw a major threat to its national “prosperity: a stock market boom it believed to be diverting financial resources from legitimate uses into speculation.” [37] Moreover, after Strong died his successor George Harrison and President Herbert Hoover were determined to stop the perceived speculative excesses that caused the stock market boom. Although there was discussion about whether or not the stock market was overvalued, the Fed argued with its belief of a speculative development in equity values.[38] As of January 1928, monetary policy in the U.S. became gradually restrictive, with the goal to curb the speculative stock market development. But this tightening in domestic credit interrupted U.S. foreign lending, so that the flow of capital began substantially to reverse. Now, the U.S. became the new destination for investments in the form of short term capital rather than the source.[39] Broker loans, which channeled large sums of short term capital into the stock market, became more attractive as bond flotations from the most solvent financial institutions.[40] Once more, foreign central banks experienced gold outflows, so that a reduction in the discount rate by the Fed seemed again advisable to prevent a worldwide deflationary pressure. The Fed was afraid to execute such reduction, however. It saw the stock market boom in a dangerous sphere and responded with a contractionary monetary policy.[41] Within the first half of 1928 the Fed conducted open market sales to drain the liquidity from the financial system and raised interest rates from 3.5 % to 5 % as shown in figure 3.[42] Nevertheless, the measures that had been taken to halt the stock market boom failed. Further, credit rationing by increasing the discount rate was opposed by Adolph Miller, a member of the Fed, who was already worried about the industrial situation in the U.S.[43] as higher interest rates would reduce interest rate sensitive spending in areas like construction and automobile buying, which in turn would depress production.[44] He also feared another wake of gold that would sap reserves from the European central banks.[45] Thus, he proposed a policy of ‘direct pressure’, which was successfully been utilized in 1920 to end the stock market boom followed by only a minor recession. This sort of policy contained the usage of moral suasion to discourage member banks to give loans from the Fed to brokers and stock market speculators. Thus, “Credit to Wall Street could be curtailed without denying it to legitimate industrial and agricultural borrowers.”[46] However, the difficulty of lending was to distinguish clearly from speculators, so that the Fed decided to abandon this policy. [47] Equity prices were exorbitantly high and through large credit volumes as well as hectic speculation put to a level that was in no relation to the anticipated future earnings of financial and non-financial business.[48] In the hope that credit demand would increase in the late summer due to the harvest and crop-moving season, the Fed was eventually permitted to advance the discount rate to 6 % in August 1929 to discourage speculative borrowing.[49] But the Fed’s priority to break the bubble would not occur before October. Until the first days of September 1929, market expectations on Wall Street still retained, while the decline in economic activity proceeded due to tight money.

3. The Causes of the Great Depression

The depression developed itself in a varying intensity. But the reasons are anything but known. This section shall analyze contributing factors that may have been important in reinforcing the economic contraction. Thus, the stock market crash of 1929 will be introduced as a possible cause for the Great Depression. Afterwards, this paper will explain the banking crises between 1930 and 1933 and how they may have been responsible for the slow down in economic activity. Along with the banking crises, the problem of debt deflation will then be carefully examined. After that the interwar gold standard forms the second major part of this paper. The structural flaws that originated after World War I shall be identified and explained how they contributed together with the fixed exchange rate system to the Depression. Following to that, the problem of nominal sticky wages and world tariffs will also be closely described. The Liquidationist view by President Hoover will finalize the research on the causes of the Great Depression.

3.1 Stock Market Crash on Wall Street

The Dow Jones Industrial Average Index (hereinafter DJIA) a good indicator for the development on the stock market reached its peak in September 1929.[50] The month the stock market slowed down is marked as October. At this time, Barsky and De Long maintain that stocks were overvalued by 30 %.[51]

On October 23, the DJIA dropped by 6.4 %, which indicates that the market became nervous. The next day turned out to be the ‘Black Thursday’ when the DJIA fell by 11 %, so that a consortium of leading banks were forced to protect the stock market from further losses through support purchases, which shortly succeeded. Stock prices began to increase and remained then stable. However, stock prices dropped again on the following Monday. The next day October 29, was to be the most devastated day on the New York Stock Exchange and turned out to be the ‘Black Tuesday’. Public’s uncertainty became alarming as it was rumored these leading banks would sell their stocks back to the market. The DJIA dropped to the day’s low that was lower by 20 % compared to the closing price on Monday.[52] Between the period when the DJIA had its peak in September and the first low in November, stock prices declined by 30 % as shown in figure 4. Since stock prices dropped so massively this event is often called the ‘Great Crash’ of 1929[53].

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 4: Dow Jones Industrial Average Index 1920-1935

(Source: Own illustration, Data retrieved from Dow Jones Industrial Average Performance Report)

3.1.1 What caused the Crash?

It would be speculative to put the importance to one particular factor that precipitated the crash. Galbraith even argues anything could have influenced investors to start selling. Thus, it is not clear what gave the incentive to sell but it is worth to study in short what may have caused the stock market collapse.

The raise in the Fed’s discount rate in August was accompanied by a stock market upswing. Investors may have seen the discount rate hike as temporary, so that it did not influence the stock price development. Therefore, the stock market crash cannot directly be linked to the Fed’s monetary policy as the demand for stocks was relatively interest rate inelastic during the euphoria.

The amount of new issued stocks may have overstretched the market’s capacity. But the volume of issued stocks in September depicted only 1 % of total stock market capitalization, so that this can only be considered as a marginal contributing factor.[54]

The bankruptcy by the English company Clarance Hatry caused the London Stock market to fall[55] and a sudden discount rate increase by the Bank of England to 6.5 %.[56] There are different opinions among economists about the role of the Clarance Hatry collapse but through the operation of the international gold standard this bankruptcy may have had an influence on investor’s expectations.[57]

Some critics maintain the denial by the government to split the stocks of Boston Edison as a threatening signal to the market to more governmental regulation in the service sector. Regulators feared an encouragement in speculation of Boston Edison stocks, and thus, began to intervene. However, the Dow Jones indices for industrials and utilities right before and after this decision illustrate no reaction or expectations to this refusal. Thus, this intervention by the government can be seen as not relevant for the crash.[58]

The Smoot-Hawley Act that envisioned trade barriers on imports was not passed before June 1930 but such act was already anticipated in 1929. However, even though this tariff act had only consequences for the export industry it may indirectly have contributed to the crash.

The amount of broker loans in October 23, accounted only 3 % less compared to the peak of broker loans on October 9, which considers the importance ofbroker loans for the crash as negligible.

Based on Aschinger’s and White’s evidence none of these mentioned events can be solely made accountable for the crash but possibly be seen as a trigger.[59] Friedman and Schwartz see the moment of the stock market collapse rather as pure coincidental.[60] Neither did Kindleberger know what the stock market downturn triggered but he gives broker loans an extremely important role in enforcing the magnitude of the downturn after the crash.[61] Many brokers offered their customers stock purchases on margin. That is, customers needed to put out a small amount of money to buy stock - the rest was bought on credit. The collateral ofbroker loans was based on the fact that if the safety margin fell below the underlying, the stock portfolio was immediately liquidated.[62] Thus, when prices began to decline investors were forced to sell their assets to limit losses, which thus intensified the fall in stock prices ending in a self enforcing process.[63] The withdrawal of broker loans as a direct consequence of the crash pulled out the liquidity from the market causing share prices even more to fall.[64]

3.1.2 The Economic Downturn afterthe Crash of 1929

The stock market crash and the Great Depression are often seen as one and the same event. That is, the fall in stock prices starting in October 1929 and the dramatic reduction in real output within the period of 1929 and 1933 are mostly seen as the same tremendous downfall of the U.S. economy. In contrary, many economists maintain that the crash and the Great Depression were two very separate events and at best tangentially connected.[65]


[1] Cf. Batcheldor, R. W./ Glasner D., 1991, p. 2

[2] Friedman, M./ Schwartz, A. J., 1963, p. 411

[3] Cf. Batcheldor, R. W./ Glasner D., 1991, p. 2

[4] Cf. Mildner, S., 2005, p. 3

[5] Parker, R., 2008, p. 1

[6] Cf. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

[7] Cf. International Historical Statistics, 1998, p. 708ff.

[8] Cf. Aschinger, G.,1995, p. 97 ff.

[9] Cf. Pavanelli, G., 2001, p. 5

[10] Cf. Temin, P., 1993, p.241

[11] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 95

[12] Cf. Bernanke, B. S., 2000, p. 52

[13] Cf. Parker, R. E,2002, p. 16

[14] Cf. Mitchell, W. C.l Burns, A. F., 1936, p. 2

[15] Cf. Kindleberger, C. P., 1973, p. 61

[16] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 95

[17] Cf. Parker, R.E.,2002, p. 17

[18] Cf. Robbins, L. C., 1934, p. 6

[19] Cf. Robbins, L. C., 1934, p.24

[20] Cf. Kindleberger, C. P., 1973, p. 305 ff.

[21] Cf. Bernanke, B. S., 2000, p. 72

[22] Cf. Mildner, S., 2005, p. 2

[23] Cf. Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 13

[24] Cf.Mildner, S., 2005,p.2f.

[25] Cf. Batcheldor, R. W./ Glasner D.,1991, p. 19 ff

[26] Cf. Eichengreen, B., 1995, p.13

[27] Cf. Mildner, S., 2005, p. 5

[28] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 85

[29] Cf. Temin, P., 1994, p.4

[30] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 86 ff.

[31] Cf. Mildner, S., 2005, p. 5

[32] It remains unclear to what extent a central bank should respond to asset price booms. The predominant view has been to respond only to the extent that asset price increases threaten the inflation goal. In lightof the currentfinancial crisis, however, that view is going to be reassessed in coming years.

[33] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 89

[34] Cf. Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 213

[35] Cf. Friedman, M./ Schwartz, A. J., 1963, p. 289

[36] Cf. Mildner, S., 2005, p. 5

[37] Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 216

[38] Cf. Parker, R. E., 2002, p. 4

[39] Cf. Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 217

[40] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 102

[41] Cf. Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 217

[42] Cf. Parker, R. E., 2002, p. 5

[43] Cf. Kindleberger, C. P., 1973, p. 113

[44] Cf. Romer, C. D., 2003, p. 3

[45] Cf. Kindleberger, C. P., 1973, p. 113

[46] Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 217 f.

[47] Cf. Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 218

[48] Cf. Romer, C. D., 2003, p. 3

[49] Cf. Eichengreen, B., 1995, p. 218

[50] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 94

[51] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 102

[52] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 107

[53] Cf. Romer, C. D., 2003, p. 3

[54] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 106

[55] Cf. White, E. N., 1990, p. 170 f.

[56] Cf. Robbins, L. C., 1934, p. 10

[57] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 106

[58] Cf. White, E. N., 1990, p. 172

[59] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 106

[60] Cf. Friedman, M./ Schwartz, A. J., 1965, p. 111

[61] Cf. Kindleberger, C. P., 1973, p. 122

[62] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 108

[63] Cf. Romer, C. D., 2003, p. 3

[64] Cf. Aschinger, G., 1995, p. 109

[65] Cf. Romer, C. D., 1990 p. 597

“The Great Depression of the 1930’s was a worldwide phenomenon composed an infinite number of separate but related events.”  The Great Depression was a time of poverty and despair caused by many different events.  Its hard to say what caused this worldwide depression because it’s all based on opinion as opposed to factual data.  There are many contributing factors but not one specific event can be pin pointed for starting the depression.  It is believed that some events contribute more than others-such as the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 was in the majorities opinion, a long and overdue crash that was bound to happen.  Prices sky-rocketed so high that when they reached what was believed to be it’s all time high, most people sold their gaining stocks for a profit.  So many people sold their stocks at a rapid rate that the corporations were unable to pay the shareholders.  Speculation arouse months before the crash when Roger Babson made his speech at the annual National Business Conference which he said “….. Sooner or later a crash is coming which will take the leading stocks and cause a decline from 60 to 90 points in the Dow Jones Barometer.”   This and many others speeches like this scared people into selling there stocks before the inevitable would happen.  This was a leading causes that assisted the Great Depression become one of the bleakest and most studied events in the history of our country: yet not the only cause.

Another large contributing factor was Mother Nature, I say this because in Oklahoma the weather was so dry that the farmers were unable to harvest their crops: these farmers became known as Okies.  The land was a barren wasteland of dust and dirt in which it got it’s name the Dust Bowl.  In other areas, the extreme opposite took place: farmers overproduced and prices rapidly dropped because the demand decreased.  The drastic result of this oversupply made it hard for farmers to make money due to the fact that they had so much that they were forced to sell it at substantial low priced just to remain competitive enough to make even the small profit they were making. The imbalances were however, self correcting in which if manufacturers made too much of something, it’s price would fall, profits would disappear, and the producers would cut back on output.  In 1932 the American writer, Stuart Chase described cycles as “the spree and hangover of an undisciplined economy.”

Economists recognized the depression as a cycle in which there were four cycles; expansion; crisis(or panic); recession (or contraction); and recovery.  The definitive description was made by Wesley Clair Mitchell of the University of California.  A cycle Mitchell explained in Business Cycles(1913) was “the process of cumulative change by renewal of [Economic] activity develops into intense prosperity by which the prosperity engenders a crisis, by which crisis turns into depression and by which depression finally leads to…. a revival of activity.”

Banks played a significant role in the depression because they were in  charge of all the money and interest rates.  For example when banks had large reserves, they lowered interest rates.  Cheaper loans encouraged manufactures to invest in new equipment and hire additional workers.  The resulting expansion of production caused an upswing of the cycle.  The increased borrowing eventually reduced the bank’s reserves, thus resulting in a drastic increase of interest rates.  That discouraged investors and slowed the economy down.  Another good explanation was the bad distribution of wealth for the cycles. During these challenging and difficult times the rich opted not to spend there money: they saved in banks, vaults, etc.  This resulted in increased investments, more production, and eventually more goods piled up on shelves and warehouses.  Prices fell, production was cut back and workers were discharged. As a result, the economy entered the depression phase of the cycle.

The crisis stage of the cycle was brought about by bank failures and by irrational selling of stocks ;thus causing business failures, a slowing in production, a rise in unemployment, and an overall optimistic view about the future.

Another helpful aide in the depression was the chief International creditor who was described as “unexperienced and less careful about it’s lendings because it was less dependent on this business than the chief pre-war tender, Great Britain.”  He granted huge short term loans to politically unstable nations.

Lionel Robbins was a professor at the London School of Economics.  He offered what was probably “the most influential contemporary explanation of the length of the downturn in the Great Depression(1934).  The World War (World War I) had destroyed much property and stimulated nationalistic sentiments that resulted in restrictions on international trade; Robbins wrote”  Robbins believed that the depression was dragging on because of structural weaknesses.  An example of Robbins philosophy was that the monetary confusion and rampant inflation after the war had hampered.

Many policies that the government put out hurt and slowed the recovering economy.  One act known as the American Hawley-Smooth of 1930 crushed the European industry which was already unstable from the depression.  It stopped European trade and prevented European from earning the almighty dollar.  This Act also destroyed any possibilities of regaining the money loaned to them during World War I.

The collapse of the German Banking system in 1931 had monumental affects on the entire world.  It aided to turn, what would have been, a small economic problem into the Great Depression.  President Hoover was outraged and blamed the Great Depression on the Europeans by saying, “the hurricane that swept our shores were of European origin.”  He also said, “European statesmen did not even have the courage to meet the real issues and heavy spending on arms and frantic public works programs to meet unemployment led to unbalanced budget and inflation that tore their system assunder.”

The Germans also blamed the depression on the harsh terms imposed by the Versailles Treaty, especially the reparation they were forced to pay.  They claimed the reparations brought down the economic vitality of their country to an all time low.

Not one single book I have read has blamed any one specific country for the start of this catastrophe.  As a matter of fact, each book has said if the countries would have worked in unison rather than focusing solely on themselves we might not have ever heard of the Great Depression.  Nobody knows what the result would have been if the countries worked together and resolved the problem before it festered as it did.  No one ever envisioned the extensive duration of the depression.  My only prayer is that we never see another time like this again.

The United States was and still is a great power in the world’s manufactured goods – twice as much as Great Britain and Germany combined.  When American producers cut back on their purchases of raw materials and other supplies, the effect on other countries was devastating.  The policies of the Federal Reserve Board in the early 1930’s put added pressure on European currencies.  After Great Britain was again forced to leave the gold standard in 1931, many foreign banks withdrew deposits from America in the form of gold: they were afraid that the United States might go off the gold standard too.  “When the Reserve Board raised the discount rate to discourage these withdrawals it inadvertently exacerbated the deflationary trend, thus deepening and prolonging the world depression.”  The America delfation was probably the cause of much of the deflation that took place elsewhere and thus an important reason why the depression lasted so long.

High unemployment was the most alarming aspect of the Great Depression.  “In every industrial nation, more people were out of work than in any period in the past.  It has been estimated that in 1933 about thirty million workers were jobless, about two-thirds of these in three countries – the United States, Germany, and Great Britain.  If anything, this estimate is low.”  In New York City a survey was conducted by the Welfare Council and in New York alone 100,000 families were being treated for physical and mental effects of unemployment.  The homeless rate increased dramatically.  So much so that many people did not even have a roof over their heads.  The majority of homeless people had nothing at all and the minority made shacks on vacant land: these shacks soon became known as “Hoovervilles”.

Women played a new role during this time.  When a man lost his job and was having difficulty locating a new one, it was up to the women to work.  This made a man “feel less than a man” because the women were supporting the family and at that point in time such an event was frowned upon.  Worldwide, in 1929 about one-third of all workers were women.  Everyone agreed that ending the depression would solve the unemployment problem or at least bring unemployment down to “manageable” levels.  There was also, however, the more immediate problem of what to do about the people who were unemployed and needed assistance merely to survive.  Whether efforts to aid the unemployed would help to end the depression or make it worse was a matter of risk-taking.  Another way to solve the unemployment problem was to export people to other countries that had available jobs so that people could survive.

I do not think the Great Depression could have been avoided: we simply do not live in a perfect world.  There is no way of telling when or if the next depression will occur.  I feel if the governments worked together then the depression would not have been such a catastrophe as it ended up being.  Did the nations not know that they influenced the course of the depression and in turn, the course of history.  Another reason why the depression lasted so long was because politicians were so busy in pointing fingers at each other instead of resolving it.

Who knows how long the depression would have lasted if World War II never came to be.  Because of World War II industries began making weapons and these industries hired the workers to meet the high demands.  The United States would sell their weapons world wide and make a profit.

This turn in events concludes the era of the Great Depression with the last cycle: recovery.

It is an amazing and complex phenomena, that at seventeen years old I am able to pin-point (in what is my opinion), the leading cause of the duration of the Great Depression: uncooperative leaders unwilling to aid and assist so that harmonious coexistence would have prevailed.

Hopefully, at this point in our history we have learned from our past mistakes and will never see such a dreadful and dire time again!

 1). Bernstein, Irving. A Caring Society, The New Deal, The Workers, And         The Great Depression.   Haugghton Mifflin Company. 1985
 2). Garraty, John A. The Great Depression. Harrcourt Brace Jovanovich   Publishers. 1986
 3). Hoover, Herbert. The Memoirs Of Herbert Hoover 1920-1933. The    Macmillan Company. 1953
 4). Meltzer, Milton. Brother Can You Spare A Dime.  Random House Inc.   1969
 5). Patterson, Robert T. The Great Boom And Panic. Henry Regenery    Company. 1965
 6). Rothbard, Murray W. America’s Great Depression. D. Van Nostrand   Company Inc. 1963
 7). Smith, Gene The Shattered Dream. William Morrow and Company. 1970
 8). Watleins, T.H. The Great Depression, America in the 30’s. Little Brown   Company. 1993

Filed Under: Great Depression, History


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