Background To Great Depression:
- The 1920s witnessed an economic boom in the US (typified by Ford Motor cars, which made a car within the grasp of ordinary workers for the first time). Industrial output expanded very rapidly.
- Sales were often promoted through buying on credit. However, by early 1929, the steam had gone out of the economy and output was beginning to fall.
- The stock market had boomed to record levels. Price to earning ratios were above historical averages.
- The US Agricultural sector had been in recession for many more years
- The UK economy had been experiencing deflation and high unemployment for much of the 1920s. This was mainly due to the cost of the first world war and attempting to rejoin the Gold standard at a pre-world war 1 rate. This meant Sterling was overvalued causing lower exports and slower growth. The US tried to help the UK stay in the gold standard. That meant inflating the US economy, which contributed to the credit boom of the 1920s.
Causes of Great Depression1. Stock Market Crash of October 1929
During September and October, a few firms posted disappointing results causing share prices to fall. On October 28th (Black Monday), the decline in prices turned into a crash has share prices fell 13%. Panic spread throughout the stock exchange as people sought to unload their shares. On Tuesday there was another collapse in prices known as 'Black Tuesday'. Although shares recovered a little in 1930, confidence had evaporated and problems spread to the rest of the financial system. Share prices would fall even more in 1932 as the depression deepened. By 1932, The stock market fell 89% from its September 1929 peak. It was at a level not seen since the nineteenth century.
- Falling share prices caused a collapse in confidence and consumer wealth. Spending fell and the decline in confidence precipitated a desire for savers to withdraw money from their banks.
In the first 10 months of 1930 alone, 744 US banks went bankrupt and savers lost their savings. In a desperate bid to raise money, they also tried to call in their loans before people had time to repay them. As banks went bankrupt, it only increased the demand for other savers to withdraw money from banks. Long queues of people wanting to withdraw their savings was a common sight. The authorities appeared unable to stop bank runs and the collapse in confidence in the banking system. Many agree, that it was this failure of the banking system which was the most powerful cause of economic depression.
|50% fall in bank lending during the Great Depression. Period in grey - recessions.|
- Because of the banking crisis, Banks reduced lending, there was a fall in investment. People lost savings and so reduced consumer spending. The impact on economic confidence was disastrous.
Great Depression in US
Over 20% fall in US real GDP
Four consecutive years of negative growth 1929-32.
US unemployment rose from zero in 1929 to over 25% in 1932 - indicating the severity and seriousness of the decline in economic activity.
|US price level. 1930-33 was a period of deflation (negative inflation) - fall in the price level.|
Great Depression in the UK
The great depression in the UK was less severe because
There had been no boom in the 1920s (it was actually a period of low growth)
After leaving the Gold Standard in 1932, the UK economy recovered relatively well.
The UK also experienced a long period of deflation in the 1920s and 1930s. See: History of inflation
With falling output, prices began to fall. Deflation created additional problems.
- It increased the difficulty of paying off debts taken out during the 1920s.
- Falling prices encouraged people to hoard cash rather than spend (Keynes called this the paradox of thrift)
- Increased real wage unemployment (workers reluctant to accept nominal wage cuts, caused real wages to rise creating additional unemployment)
As banks went bankrupt, consumer spending and investment fell dramatically. Output fell, unemployment rose causing a negative multiplier effect. In the 1930s, the unemployment received little relief beyond the soup kitchen. Therefore, the unemployed dramatically reduced their spending.
America had lent substantial amounts to Europe and UK, to help rebuild after first world war. Therefore, there was a strong link between the US economy and the rest of the world. The US downturn soon spread to the rest of the world as America called in loans, Europe couldn't afford to pay back. This global recession was exacerbated by imposing new tariffs such as Smoot-Hawley which restricted trade further.
Different views of the Great DepressionMonetarists View
Monetarists highlight the importance of a fall in the money supply. They point out that between 1929 and 1932, the Federal Reserve allowed the money supply (Measured by M2) to fall by a third. In particular, Monetarists such as Friedman criticise the decisions of the Fed not to save banks going bankrupt. They say that because the money supply fell so much an ordinary recession turned into a major deflationary depression.
The Austrian school of Economists such as Hayek and Ludwig Von Mises place much of the blame on an unsustainable credit boom in the 1920s. In particular, they point to the decision to inflate the US economy to try and help the UK remain on the Gold standard at a rate which was too high. They argue after this unsustainable credit boom a recession became inevitable. The Austrian school doesn't accept the Friedman analysis that falling money supply was the main problem. They argue it was the loss of confidence in the banking system which caused the most damage.
Keynes emphasised the importance of a fundamental disequilibrium in real output. He saw the Great Depression as evidence that the classical models of economics were flawed.
- Classical economics assumed Real Output would automatically return to equilibrium (full employment levels), but the great depression showed this to be not true.
- Keynes said the problem was lack of aggregate demand. Keynes argued passionately that governments should intervene in the economy to stimulate demand through public works scheme - higher spending and borrowing.
- Keynes heavily criticised the UK government's decision to try balance the budget in 1930 through higher taxes and lower benefits. He said this only worsened the situation.
- Keynes also pointed to the paradox of thrift.
The Marxist View saw the Great Depression as heralding the imminent collapse of global capitalism. With unemployment over 25%, Marxists held that this showed the inherent instability and failure of the capitalist model. Furthermore, they pointed to the Soviet Union as a country which was able to overcome the great depression through state-sponsored economic planning.
How important was Stock Market Crash of 1929?The stock market crash of October 1929, was certainly a factor which precipitated events. It did cause a decline in wealth and severely affected confidence. However, changes in share prices were a reflection of the underlying boom and bust in the economy. Also, a collapse in share prices might not have caused the great depression if bank failures had been avoided. In October 1987, share prices fell by even more (22%) than black Monday. But, it didn't cause an economic recession.
Essays on the Great Depression by Ben S. Bernanke at Amazon.co.uk
Essays on the Great Depression by Ben S. Bernanke at Amazon.com
1. Background of the Great Depression
2. Economic Impact of the Great Depression
i. Failure of the stock market
ii. “Small scale farmers disadvantaged”
iii. Business and industry failure
vi. Human suffering
vii. Increase of government’s economy regulation
viii. Growth of macroeconomic strategies
ix. Homelessness, discrimination and racism
xi. Creation of dust bowls
xii. Illness and starvation
3. Overview of Stock Market Crash
4. How people bought products on margin
5. How trouble came up
6. Causes of the Great Depression
i. World-wide and domestic factors
6. Summary of the effects of Great Depression
8. Works Cited
The Great Depression
The great depression is an immense tragedy that took millions of people in the United States from work. It marked the beginning of involvement from the government to the country’s economy and also the society as a whole. After almost a decade of prosperity and optimism, the US was now exposed to a period of despair. The day when this happened is referred to as Black Tuesday, and it is the day when the stock market crashed. That was the official date when the Great Depression started. The stock market prices crashed to an extent that there was no hope for them to rise again. A long period of panic struck, and there was darkness in terms of stock market prices. Many people tried as they could to sell their stock, but, unfortunately, no one was ready to buy. The stock market that had for long been viewed as a path to wealth and richness was now a sure path to bankruptcy (Martin 106).
Economic Impact of the Great Depression
Failure of the stock market. The stock market was not the only one that was affected; actually, that was just but the beginning of the Great Depression. In effect, it was unfavorable for the clients whose money was already in the markets for investment: many banks had done that and that meant a huge loss to the clients. It was also a double loss in that though the clients lost their money, the banks were forced to close down. This is because they directly depended on the stock market. When this happened, it caused much panic even to other people, and this is what made them go to the other banks that were open to withdraw their money. This kind of massive withdrawal had a major effect in that it caused the banks to close too. What is more, it was a disadvantage to those who did not withdraw their money because of not reaching the bank on time. After the banks closed, people went bankrupt and could not claim anything whosoever.
Business and industry failure. Industries and businesses were highly affected too. This is because they were also working hand in hand with the stock market. Since the stock market had closed down, this meant that their savings and capital were lost. This affected the labor in the businesses since they had to cut on the number of workers who worked in the corresponding companies. Employees’ wages were also affected because any business could not pay them again as required. The stock market issue also affected the customers in that they stopped buying and spending on luxurious goods. This influenced greatly the companies that produced these commodities in terms of sales and also getting profit. The companies too had to close down (Martin 98).
Farmers. The Great Depression affected the farmers in a very adverse way. Though they always survived other depressions that they encountered, this one was a big challenge to them. Most of the farmers were situated at the Great Plains before the Great Depression took place. The territory was affected so badly by drought and dust storms which were horrendous in nature. They created a situation that was referred to as the Dust Bowl. The farmers were used to overgrazing, and now this had to combine with the effects of drought leading to a blow to the farmers. The latter were even left without food and crops for their animals. This is because the grass that the animals could feed on had already dried up and disappeared in the long run. The loose dirt was picked by the whirled wind, and topsoil got exposed. The farmers were left without crops as the wind picked up everything on its way (Martin 200).
Small scale farmers disadvantaged. Small scale farmers were more disadvantaged than the large scale farmers. They turned out to have a small piece of land on which they had to get their daily bread. Some of these farmers asked for tractors from their respective governments, and thus, they were made to pay some amount to cater for those. The hit that the farmers went through could not enable them to pay their debts. They could also not make it to feed their families, not mentioning themselves. Some of the farmers had also capitalized on the stock market and bank. Since the stock market was affected, and as a result, the banks too, the farmers suffered as well. Losing their investments and crops influenced greatly the way they related with each other and had an impact on their contribution to the economy of the land. The country lost a lot of laborers and this led to the deterioration of the country’s economy.
Unemployment. Many people lost their jobs during this time of the Great Depression. Having lost their jobs, it was very difficult for people to bring food on the table. Families were even forced to sell their houses and move to apartments. Others were made to move in together since the standard of living was going down day by day. Paying rent was now a very hard thing to achieve. It was even complicated for people to separate or divorce. This was the time when the rate of separation and divorce went down. This is because everyone needed the other to contribute, especially in paying the rent. Due to ego, men who had already lost their jobs felt ashamed even to walk in the cities, and, therefore, they were forced to stay in their homes. If at all the wives and the children were working, they felt that their status was challenged. Even in this situation, the two categories aforementioned were forced to go looking for jobs. This time, women were even accused of taking the man’s place after getting a job.
As a matter of fact, it was hard to get jobs locally because every part of the country had been affected. Many people were seen on the roads looking for jobs. Many people could not afford luxurious goods like cars, and thus, very few cars were seen on the roads. A lot of the cars were on sale since maintenance costs were unaffordable. The majority of teenagers were affected as they were the people who were seen on the roads walking up and down looking to get some job (Martin 187).
Older men, women, and families at large were on the rails too. They would be seen boarding trains just to cross and see whether they could get some occupation. Every time there was a job opening, many people applied for the position and chances for employment at such. Those who could not get the job would end up living in shanty towns which were outside the town. The houses in such places were made of affordable cheap materials like newspapers, wood, mud, cardboard, and iron sheets. Farmers who could no longer afford their previous lives would be found in western California. This is because of the agricultural opportunity rumors that came from that area. It is true that there were periods of agricultural opportunities. The farmers were nicknamed as Okies and Arkies.
The Great Depression took place during the reign of President Herbert Hoover. The citizens always blamed the governing President, though he always talked about optimism. Some of the shanty towns which were far from big cities were named after him – for instance, Hoovervilles. Interestingly, newspapers used to cover people sleeping in the streets were called Hoover Blankets. What is more, even bad looking broken cars were referred to as Hoover Wagons (Martin 134).
Human suffering. The Great Depression had a huge impact in that it caused human suffering. It took a very short time, and the levels of living went down drastically. People started borrowing from each other just to survive. Unemployment increased since industries could not take employees anymore. They could not afford to pay the people what they deserved. Research shows that at least a fourth of the labor force in all the industrialized countries could not work anymore (Martin 145). The industries could not satisfy them in terms of wages. This was noticed in 1930, and the total recovery was only realized by the end of that decade.
End of international gold standard. The Great Depression is seen as a cause of international gold standard. There was no money to invest anymore, and it was evident that the interest rates went down too. There was also the introduction of floating rates, and people stopped using the fixed exchange rates. On the other hand, there was an expansion of the welfare state and labor unions in 1930. Union membership went to an extent of doubling between that year and 1940. This was a result of extreme unemployment and the National Labor Relations Act which was passed in 1935. All this led to collective bargaining. The US took an extra mile of coming up with unemployment compensation. This also included the survivors’ and old age insurance. This was incorporated in the Social Security Act the same year. Its aim was to cater for the hardships that the citizens were going through in 1930.
Increase of government’s economy regulation. The rate at which the government regulated the economy increased substantially. The focus was mostly on the financial markets. Different bodies to carry out this function were established. These included the Securities and Exchange Commission which was established in 1934. The main role of these institutions was to control and regulate stock issues in the stock market, especially with regard to the new products. The Banking Act went ahead to come up with deposit insurance, whose role was to work with the banks by prohibiting them from underwriting. Deposit insurance was not so popular in the world up to the Second World War. This time it was able to work effectively, hence achieving its mission and objectives.
Growth of macroeconomic strategies. The aim of the latter was to fight the economic upturns and downturns. As a matter of fact, different strategies were established to fight the Great Depression. An increased focus on how the government spend, tax cuts, and expansion of the monetary fund were some of the ways to fight the the phenomenon under consideration. The government was also trying to work to its best so as to fight unemployment. The banks were also working against recessions.
Homelessness, discrimination and racism. Many people had lost their jobs and it became even hard to get rent for their houses. They had to move to shanty areas which also were not very affordable. Others could not afford anything to cover their heads. This led to building the Hoovervilles. Since so many people were unemployed, there was a huge competition in the job market. Very few could get jobs, and those who did were not paid according to what they delivered. Under the circumstances, discrimination grew and African Americans could rarely get a job. Racism was an issue at that time. Americans were more aggressive as they noticed that there were shrinking opportunities to get a position. The African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics were the people who suffered the most. This is because of the discrimination and racism that were going on. Again, the whites were claiming the jobs which were paying poorly, hence occupying the opportunities that these minorities had before Hoovervilles.
It is evident that in any country there are different levels of people as far as their income is concerned. Where people live is different depending on what one eats. The lifestyle generally depends on what the person earns…
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