Publications on Great Depression
Working Paper No. 974 | October 2020
Financial Instability and Crises in Keynes’s Monetary ThoughtThis paper revisits Keynes’s writings from Indian Currency and Finance (1913) to The General Theory (1936) with a focus on financial instability. The analysis reveals Keynes’s astute concerns about the stability/fragility of the banking system, especially under deflationary conditions. Keynes’s writings during the Great Depression uncover insights into how the Great Depression may have informed his General Theory. Exploring the connection between the experience of the Great Depression and the theoretical framework Keynes presents in The General Theory, the assumption of a constant money stock featuring in that work is central. The analysis underscores the case that The General Theory is not a special case of the (neo-)classical theory that is relevant only to “depression economics”—refuting the interpretation offered by J. R. Hicks (1937) in his seminal paper “Mr. Keynes and the Classics: A Suggested Interpretation.” As a scholar of the Great Depression and Federal Reserve chairman at the time of the modern crisis, Ben Bernanke provides an important intellectual bridge between the historical crisis of the 1930s and the modern crisis of 2007–9. The paper concludes that, while policy practice has changed, the “classical” theory Keynes attacked in 1936 remains hegemonic today. The common (mis-)interpretation of The General Theory as depression economics continues to describe the mainstream’s failure to engage in relevant monetary economics.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Policy Note 2017/2 | July 2017If the Trump administration is to fulfill its campaign promises to this age’s “forgotten” men and women, Director of Research Jan Kregel argues, it should embrace the broader lesson of the 1930s: that government regulation and fiscal policy are crucial in addressing changes in the economic and financial structure that have exacerbated the problems faced by struggling communities.
In this policy note, Kregel explains how overcoming the economic and financial challenges we face today, just as in the 1930s, requires avoiding what Walter Lippmann identified as an “obvious error”: the blind belief that reducing regulation and the role of government will somehow restore a laissez-faire market liberalism that never existed and is inappropriate to the changing structure of production of both the US and the global economy.
Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Jan Kregel
Public Policy Brief No. 141, 2016 | March 2016To the extent that policymakers have learned anything at all from the Great Depression and the policy responses of the 1930s, the lessons appear to have been the wrong ones. In this public policy brief, Director of Research Jan Kregel explains why there is still a great deal we have to learn from the New Deal. He illuminates one of the New Deal’s principal objectives—quelling the fear and uncertainty of mass unemployment—and the pragmatic, experimental process through which the tool for achieving this objective—directed government expenditure—came to be embraced.
In the search for a blueprint from the 1930s, Kregel suggests that too much attention has been paid to the measures deployed to shore up the banking system, and that the approaches underlying the emergency financial policy measures of the recent period and those of the 1930s were actually quite similar. The more meaningful divergence between the 1930s and the post-2008 policy response, he argues, can be uncovered by comparing the actions that were taken (or not taken, as the case may be) to address the real sector of the economy following the resolution of the respective financial crises.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Jan Kregel
One-Pager No. 42 | September 2013Perhaps the most indictable offense that mainstream economists committed, from 1988 through 2008, was to retrace Keynes’s path of discovery from 1924 (A Tract on Monetary Reform) through 1936 (The General Theory). Wholesale deregulation of finance and categorical confidence in a reductionist role for central banks came into being as the conventional wisdom embraced the 1924 view that free markets and stable prices alone give us the best chance for economic stability. In the aftermath of the grand asset market boom-and-bust cycle of 2008–9, we are jettisoning Keynes circa 1924 for the Keynes of 1936. In effect, we study business cycles but seem incapable of extricating the economics profession from reciting its assigned lines as the play unfolds.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. Barbera
Working Paper No. 678 | July 2011
Reevaluating the Role of Fiscal Policy
Conventional wisdom contends that fiscal policy was of secondary importance to the economic recovery in the 1930s. The recovery is then connected to monetary policy that allowed non-sterilized gold inflows to increase the money supply. Often, this is shown by measuring the fiscal multipliers, and demonstrating that they were relatively small.
This paper shows that problems with the conventional measures of fiscal multipliers in the 1930s may have created an incorrect consensus on the irrelevance of fiscal policy. The rehabilitation of fiscal policy is seen as a necessary step in the reinterpretation of the positive role of New Deal policies for the recovery.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Nathan Perry Matías Vernengo
Working Paper No. 581 | October 2009
Did the New Deal Prolong or Worsen the Great Depression?
Since the current recession began in December 2007, New Deal legislation and its effectiveness have been at the center of a lively debate in Washington. This paper emphasizes some key facts about two kinds of policy that were important during the Great Depression and have since become the focus of criticism by new New Deal critics: (1) regulatory and labor relations legislation, and (2) government spending and taxation. We argue that initiatives in these policy areas probably did not slow economic growth or worsen the unemployment problem from 1933 to 1939, as claimed by a number of economists in academic papers, in the popular press, and elsewhere. To substantiate our case, we cite some important economic benefits of New Deal–era laws in the two controversial policy areas noted above. In fact, we suggest that the New Deal provided effective medicine for the Depression, though fiscal policy was not sufficiently countercyclical to conquer mass unemployment and prevent the recession of 1937–38; 1933’s National Industrial Recovery Act was badly flawed and poorly administered, and the help provided by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 came too late to have a big effect on the recovery.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):