Years Of The Great Depression
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After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped from 381 to 198 over the course of two months, optimism persisted for some time. The stock market rose in early 1930, with the Dow returning to 294 (pre-depression levels) in April 1930, before steadily declining for years, to a low of 41 in 1932.
Governments around the world took various steps into spending less money on foreign goods such as: "imposing tariffs, import quotas, and exchange controls". These restrictions triggered much tension among countries that had large amounts of bilateral trade, causing major export-import reductions during the depression. Not all governments enforced the same measures of protectionism. Some countries raised tariffs drastically and enforced severe restrictions on foreign exchange transactions, while other countries reduced "trade and exchange restrictions only marginally":
According to later analysis, the earliness with which a country left the gold standard reliably predicted its economic recovery. For example, The UK and Scandinavia, which left the gold standard in 1931, recovered much earlier than France and Belgium, which remained on gold much longer. Countries such as China, which had a silver standard, almost avoided the depression entirely. The connection between leaving the gold standard as a strong predictor of that country's severity of its depression and the length of time of its recovery has been shown to be consistent for dozens of countries, including developing countries. This partly explains why the experience and length of the depression differed between regions and states around the world.
In France, very slow population growth, especially in comparison to Germany continued to be a serious issue in the 1930s. Support for increasing welfare programs during the depression included a focus on women in the family. The Conseil Supérieur de la Natalité campaigned for provisions enacted in the Code de la Famille (1939) that increased state assistance to families with children and required employers to protect the jobs of fathers, even if they were immigrants.
When the United States entered the war in 1941, it finally eliminated the last effects from the Great Depression and brought the U.S. unemployment rate down below 10%. In the U.S., massive war spending doubled economic growth rates, either masking the effects of the Depression or essentially ending the Depression. Businessmen ignored the mounting national debt and heavy new taxes, redoubling their efforts for greater output to take advantage of generous government contracts.
The two classic competing economic theories of the Great Depression are the Keynesian (demand-driven) and the Monetarist explanation. There are also various heterodox theories that downplay or reject the explanations of the Keynesians and monetarists. The consensus among demand-driven theories is that a large-scale loss of confidence led to a sudden reduction in consumption and investment spending. Once panic and deflation set in, many people believed they could avoid further losses by keeping clear of the markets. Holding money became profitable as prices dropped lower and a given amount of money bought ever more goods, exacerbating the drop in demand. Monetarists believe that the Great Depression started as an ordinary recession, but the shrinking of the money supply greatly exacerbated the economic situation, causing a recession to descend into the Great Depression.
One reason why the Federal Reserve did not act to limit the decline of the money supply was the gold standard. At that time, the amount of credit the Federal Reserve could issue was limited by the Federal Reserve Act, which required 40% gold backing of Federal Reserve Notes issued. By the late 1920s, the Federal Reserve had almost hit the limit of allowable credit that could be backed by the gold in its possession. This credit was in the form of Federal Reserve demand notes. A "promise of gold" is not as good as "gold in the hand", particularly when they only had enough gold to cover 40% of the Federal Reserve Notes outstanding. During the bank panics, a portion of those demand notes was redeemed for Federal Reserve gold. Since the Federal Reserve had hit its limit on allowable credit, any reduction in gold in its vaults had to be accompanied by a greater reduction in credit. On April 5, 1933, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6102 making the private ownership of gold certificates, coins and bullion illegal, reducing the pressure on Federal Reserve gold.
The liquidation of debt could not keep up with the fall of prices that it caused. The mass effect of the stampede to liquidate increased the value of each dollar owed, relative to the value of declining asset holdings. The very effort of individuals to lessen their burden of debt effectively increased it. Paradoxically, the more the debtors paid, the more they owed. This self-aggravating process turned a 1930 recession into a 1933 great depression.
There is common consensus among economists today that the government and the central bank should work to keep the interconnected macroeconomic aggregates of gross domestic product and money supply on a stable growth path. When threatened by expectations of a depression, central banks should expand liquidity in the banking system and the government should cut taxes and accelerate spending in order to prevent a collapse in money supply and aggregate demand.
Economists like Barry Eichengreen and J. Bradford DeLong note that President Herbert Hoover tried to keep the federal budget balanced until 1932, when he lost confidence in his Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon and replaced him. An increasingly common view among economic historians is that the adherence of many Federal Reserve policymakers to the liquidationist position led to disastrous consequences. Unlike what liquidationists expected, a large proportion of the capital stock was not redeployed but vanished during the first years of the Great Depression. According to a study by Olivier Blanchard and Lawrence Summers, the recession caused a drop of net capital accumulation to pre-1924 levels by 1933. Milton Friedman called leave-it-alone liquidationism "dangerous nonsense". He wrote:
I think the Austrian business-cycle theory has done the world a great deal of harm. If you go back to the 1930s, which is a key point, here you had the Austrians sitting in London, Hayek and Lionel Robbins, and saying you just have to let the bottom drop out of the world. You've just got to let it cure itself. You can't do anything about it. You will only make it worse. ... I think by encouraging that kind of do-nothing policy both in Britain and in the United States, they did harm.
According to Rothbard, the government support for failed enterprises and efforts to keep wages above their market values actually prolonged the Depression. Unlike Rothbard, after 1970 Hayek believed that the Federal Reserve had further contributed to the problems of the Depression by permitting the money supply to shrink during the earliest years of the Depression. However, during the Depression (in 1932 and in 1934) Hayek had criticized both the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England for not taking a more contractionary stance.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the [productivity, output, and employment] trends we are describing are long-time trends and were thoroughly evident before 1929. These trends are in nowise the result of the present depression, nor are they the result of the World War. On the contrary, the present depression is a collapse resulting from these long-term trends.
The sharp fall in commodity prices, and the steep decline in exports, hurt the economies of the European colonies in Africa and Asia. The agricultural sector was especially hard hit. For example, sisal had recently become a major export crop in Kenya and Tanganyika. During the depression, it suffered severely from low prices and marketing problems that affected all colonial commodities in Africa. Sisal producers established centralized controls for the export of their fibre. There was widespread unemployment and hardship among peasants, labourers, colonial auxiliaries, and artisans. The budgets of colonial governments were cut, which forced the reduction in ongoing infrastructure projects, such as the building and upgrading of roads, ports and communications. The budget cuts delayed the schedule for creating systems of higher education.
The depression severely hurt the export-based Belgian Congo economy because of the drop in international demand for raw materials and for agricultural products. For example, the price of peanuts fell from 125 to 25 centimes. In some areas, as in the Katanga mining region, employment declined by 70%. In the country as a whole, the wage labour force decreased by 72.000 and many men returned to their villages. In Leopoldville, the population decreased by 33%, because of this labour migration.
However, the depression had drastic effects on the local economy, and partly explains the February 6, 1934 riots and even more the formation of the Popular Front, led by SFIO socialist leader Léon Blum, which won the elections in 1936. Ultra-nationalist groups also saw increased popularity, although democracy prevailed into World War II.
In 1932, 90% of German reparation payments were cancelled (in the 1950s, Germany repaid all its missed reparations debts). Widespread unemployment reached 25% as every sector was hurt. The government did not increase government spending to deal with Germany's growing crisis, as they were afraid that a high-spending policy could lead to a return of the hyperinflation that had affected Germany in 1923. Germany's Weimar Republic was hit hard by the depression, as American loans to help rebuild the German economy now stopped. The unemployment rate reached nearly 30% in 1932. 2b1af7f3a8