Joshua Hausman, Paul W. Rhode, Johannes Wieland, 29 November 2020

Like the current economic crisis in the US, the Great Depression led to large redistributions of income among sectors and households. Perhaps most important, falling farm product prices shifted income away from farmers. This column argues that this redistribution explains between 10% and 30% of the US output decline in 1930. Recovery from the Great Depression began in 1933 in part because farm product prices rose, reversing this redistribution. 

Victor Degorce, Eric Monnet, 21 October 2020

The surge in savings following the 2008-2009 Global Crisis and the recent pandemic have rekindled the interest of economists and policymakers in the paradox of thrift, formulated by Keynes in the 1930s. Subsequent research on the Great Depression of the 1930s, however, has not addressed the link between precautionary savings and growth. Using data on deposits in savings institutions of 22 countries, this column studies the fate of savings during the Great Depression and shows that Keynes' intuition was right. Banking crises had an impact on economic growth not only through the direct lending channel, but also indirectly through an increase in precautionary savings. This bears important lessons for today.

Paul De Grauwe, Yuemei Ji, 24 September 2020

The coronavirus pandemic caused a catastrophic collapse in the world economy. This column analyses the path of this decline and compares it to two other major global crises: the Great Depression in the 1930s and the Great Recession following the banking crisis of 2007-2008. It argues that COVID-19 led to both negative demand and supply shocks, resulting in a contraction of industrial production at an unprecedented pace. However, a combination of strong government policies and a functioning banking sector have led to a swifter rebound in economic activity following the coronavirus shock in comparison with the previous two crises.

Joao Gomes, Mete Kilic, Sebastien Plante, 09 February 2020

A joint resolution of US Congress in June 1933 invalidated gold clauses, which allowed for repayment in gold as well as paper, in public as well as private debt contracts. A series of lawsuits ensued, but in 1935 a complex and confused ruling by the Supreme Court determined that Congress’s action, while unconstitutional, could be maintained. This column argues that about one-third of the dramatic drop in the aggregate investment of public firms over 1933 and 1934 is explained by these events. By 1936 nearly all of the, now positive, net investment is accounted for by the elimination of these leverage risks to corporate balance sheets.

Matthew Jaremski, David Wheelock, 15 August 2019

In response to the Global Crisis a decade ago, banks have tried to make themselves more resilient to shocks transmitted through interbank connections. But the opacity of interbank networks makes it difficult to measure the effectiveness of such policies. This column uses evidence from 20th century America to show how the founding of the Federal Reserve and the Great Depression affected interbank networks and lending practices. The creation of the Fed reduced network concentration and therefore contagion risk, but the system remained vulnerable to local panics.

Sebastian Doerr, José-Luis Peydró, Hans-Joachim Voth, 15 March 2019

Polarised politics in the wake of financial crises echo throughout modern history, but evidence of a causal link between economic downturns and populism is limited. This column shows that financial crisis-induced misery boosted far right-wing voting in interwar Germany. In towns and cities where many firms were exposed to failing banks, Nazi votes surged. In particular, places exposed to the one bank led by a Jewish chairman registered particularly strong increases of support – scapegoating Jews was easier with seemingly damning evidence of their negative influence.  

Sanjiv Das, Kris Mitchener, Angela Vossmeyer, 11 March 2019

The Global Crisis brought attention to how connections among financial institutions may make systems more prone to crises. Turning to a major financial crisis from the past, this column uses data from the Great Depression to study risk in the commercial banking network leading up to the crisis and how the network structure influenced the outcomes. It demonstrates that when the distribution of risk is more concentrated at the top of the system, as it was in 1929, fragility and the propensity for risk to spread increases.

Charles Calomiris, Matthew Jaremski, David Wheelock, 12 February 2019

Banks have direct contractual exposures to one another through a variety of channels, and regulators are concerned about the systemic risk that may result from this. This column examines the Great Depression in the US and describes how important contractual contagion occurred during the Depression which significantly worsened the failure risk of banks by increasing liquidity risk. The findings call for regulatory policies that take account of potential contractual contagion, and that require minimum prudential capital and liquidity buffers to take liquidity risks into account.

David Jacks, Martin Stuermer, 07 December 2018

There is a lack of consensus on the importance of various drivers of long-run commodity prices. This column analyses a new dataset of prices and production for 15 commodities, including metals, agricultural goods, and soft commodities, between 1870 and 2015. Demand shocks due to rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have driven a substantial amount of variation in commodity price booms. While demand shocks have gained importance over time, commodity supply shocks have become less relevant. 

Patrice Baubeau, Eric Monnet, Angelo Riva, Stefano Ungaro, 29 November 2018

Previous research has downplayed the role of banking panics and financial factors in the French Great Depression. This column uses a newly assembled dataset of balance sheets for more than 400 French banks from the interwar period to challenge this long-held idea. The empirical results show two dramatic waves of panic in 1930 and 1931, and point to a flight-to-safety mechanism. The findings illustrate how minor macroeconomic assumptions and extrapolations on monetary statistics can introduce large, persistent biases in historiography.

Nikolaus Wolf, 11 June 2018

Riccardo De Bonis, Giuseppe Marinelli, Francesco Vercelli, 16 April 2018

There is no consensus on how to measure competition in the banking system, though the 'Boone indicator' of profit elasticity with respect to marginal costs has recently provided reliable results. This column uses a dataset of 125 years of bank balance sheets to calculate this indicator for the Italian banking system. It shows that regulatory changes have driven bank competition, an insight that is supported by other indicators.

Andrew Fieldhouse, Karel Mertens, Morten Ravn, 02 May 2017

Despite the significant role of housing government-sponsored enterprises in the US mortgage markets, their activities have not been subject to much scrutiny by macroeconomists. Using a monthly sample covering 40 years, this column asks how portfolio mortgage purchase activities have affected the availability of housing credit and key aggregate variables. The results indicate a key role for the agencies in shaping the US economy, as well as significant interactions and similarities between housing credit policies and conventional monetary policy.

Michael Bordo, Arunima Sinha, 20 November 2016

In the wake of the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve took unprecedented measures to stem economic decline. This column uses the Fed’s open-market operations in 1932, another period of short-term rates near the zero lower bound, as a comparison for the QE1 operation of 2008-09. Although the 1932 policy boosted output and inflation, if the Fed had announced the operation in advance and carried it out for a full year, the Great Depression could have been attenuated considerably earlier.

Martín Gonzalez-Eiras, Dirk Niepelt, 11 October 2016

The US fiscal system underwent a radical transformation in the 1930s. This column proposes a micro-founded general equilibrium model that blends politics and macroeconomics to explain the transformation. It rationalises tax centralisation and intergovernmental grants as the equilibrium response to the Sixteenth Amendment, which introduced federal taxation. The theory can also be used to forecast federal and regional taxes and government spending.

Peter Lindert, Jeffrey Williamson, 16 June 2016

Americans have long debated when the country became the world’s economic leader, when it became so unequal, and how inequality and growth might be linked.  Yet those debates have lacked the quantitative evidence needed to choose between competing views. This column introduces evidence on American incomes per capita and inequality for two centuries before World War I. American history suggests that inequality is not driven by some fundamental law of capitalist development, but rather by episodic shifts in five basic forces: demography, education policy, trade competition, financial regulation policy, and labour-saving technological change.

Kris Mitchener, Gary Richardson, 28 May 2016

The Global Crisis emphasised the fragility of international financial networks. Despite this, there has been little historical research into how networks propagate financial shocks. This column explores how interbank networks transmitted liquidity shocks through the US banking system during the Great Depression. During banking panics, the pyramided-structure of reserves forced troubled banks to reduce lending, thus amplifying the decline in investment spending. 

Miguel Morin, 16 April 2016

A longstanding question in economics is whether labour-saving technology affects firms in the medium term by increasing output, by decreasing employment, or both. This column provides evidence on this issue using a novel dataset from the concrete industry during the Great Depression. Cheaper electricity caused a decrease in the labour share of income, an increase in productivity and electrical capital intensity, and a decrease in employment. Furthermore, these effects were stronger in counties where the Depression hit hardest, consistent with the idea of ‘the cleansing effect of recessions’.

Giovanni Federico, Antonio Tena-Junguito, 07 February 2016

Parallels are often drawn between the Great Recession of the past decade and the economic turmoil of the interwar period. In terms of global trade, these comparisons are based on obsolete and incomplete data. This column re-estimates world trade since the beginning of the 19th century using a new database. The effect of the Great Recession on trade growth is sizeable but fairly small compared with the joint effect of the two world wars and the Great Depression. However, the effects will become more and more comparable if the current trade stagnation continues.

Gerben Bakker, Nicholas Crafts, Pieter Woltjer, 05 February 2016

The Great Depression is considered one of the darkest times for the US economy, but some argue that the US economy experienced strong productivity growth over the period. This column reassesses this performance using improved measures of total factor productivity that allow for comparisons of productivity growth in the Depression era and in later decades. Contrary to Alvin Hansen’s gloomy prognosis of secular stagnation, the US economy was in a very strong position during the 1930s by today’s standards.


Vox eBooks


CEPR Policy Research