The Great Depression – Now and Then

posted by Nima

December 1, 2008 · Posted in General Economics, Interventionism 

The public, these days, is cheering on a government that is repeating the mistakes of 1929 one by one.

It is thus necessary to outline the parallels between 1921-1933 and 2001-2008:

The Inflationary Periods

1921-1929:

  • A sharp recession occurs during 1920 which liquidates the previous inflation from World War 1
  • The 1920s boom is kicked off: The Federal Reserve Bank, established in 1913, inflates the money supply via credit expansion from July 1921 through December 1928 at an average annual rate of 7.7% by printing money to purchase acceptances, commercial paper, government securities, silver certificates, and foreign bonds
  • Motivations of this inflationary policy were mostly:
    • Facilitate speedy recovery of the 1920 recession
    • Support for the government of Great Britain and German states and municipalities via foreign loans
    • Support for export lobbyists in the US by making more US$ available to foreigners
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average soars from 63.90 in 1921 to 381.17 in October 1929
  • President Coolidge, in office until March of 1929, calls the American prosperity “absolutely sound”, stocks “cheap at current prices”; secretary Treasury Mellon announces “There is an abundant supply of easy money which should take care of any contingencies that might arise.”; both announce a “new era” of permanent prosperity (Ralph W. Robey, “The Capadores of Wall Street”)
  • In October 1929, a liquidation of unsound investments is kicked off by the crash of October 1929

2001-2007:

The Depression

1929 – 1933:

  • In March of 1929 President Herbert Hoover takes office
  • In October 1929, immediately after the crash, the Federal Reserve doubles its holdings of government securities, adding over $150 million in reserves, and discounts about $200 million for member banks, thus postponing necessary liquidations on the stock market and enabling NYC banks to take over brokers’ loans which other non-banks would otherwise have liquidated
  • The money supply expands by nearly 10% in one week
  • The Federal Reserve lowers the rediscount rate from 6% at the time of the crash to 4.5% by mid November
  • Secretary Treasury Mellon periodically assures the public that there is “plenty of credit available”
  • However, toward the end of 1929 all these measures prove futile and the money supply drops back to pre-crash levels
  • During November 1929 Hoover calls in White House conferences with industry leaders, getting them to pledge that wage rates will be maintained and not adjusted as lower prices for goods sold would mandate, thus postponing the necessary correction and prolonging the depression
  • On November 24th 1929 the Dept. of Commerce establishes a definite organization to join with the states in expanding public works programs
  • Hoover grants more subsidies to ship construction through the Federal Shipping Board
  • The Federal Farm Board
    • In June 1929, the Agricultural Marketing Act is passed, establishing the Federal Farm Board (FFB), furnished with $500 million by the Treasury to make all-purpose loans to farm cooperatives at low interest rates and to establish price stabilization corporations with the objective to artificially keep up farm prices
    • On October 26th 1929 the newly established FFB launches a program to lend $150 million to wheat coops and establishes the Farmers’ National Grain Corporation with $10 million capital; as farm prices continue to fall, the Farmers’ National itself begins to buy up wheat to keep up prices; the inevitable fall of prices is thus postponed as farmers are encouraged to keep producing surpluses; in 1930 prices continue to fall as the FFB keeps accumulating wheat surpluses
    • In spring of 1930 Hoover acquires from Congress an added $100 million in order for the FFB to continue lending and buying and establishes the Grain Stabilization Corporation (GSC) to replace Farmers’ National and redouble price stabilization efforts
    • By June 30 1930 the GSC has accumulated over 65 million bushels of wheat held off the market; prices continue to fall
    • On November 15, the GSC is authorized to purchase as much wheat as necessary to stop any further decline in wheat prices and buys up another 200 million bushels until mid 1931; prices continue to fall
    • The FFB finally decides to dump the excess stock abroad and prices fall even more drastically, the entire operation significantly postponed the necessary correction and prolonged the depression
    • By the end of the Hoover administration the FFB has incurred cotton and wheat losses of over $300 million
    • Other programs launched by the FFB that either failed in the same manner or proved impractical from the outset: Cotton Stabilization Corporation, National Wool Marketing Corporation, National Livestock Marketing Association, California Grape Control Board
  • July 3rd 1930: Congress approves the expenditure of a giant $915 million public works program
  • Throughout 1930 the New York Federal Reserve lowers the rediscount rate from 4.5% to 2%; the money supply remains stagnant
  • In mid 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff is signed into law, raising import tariffs to record highs, and spreading protectionism all over the world – consumers and exporters suffer from the ensuing decline of international trade
  • October 1930: Hoover threatens federal regulation of the New York Stock Exchange, unless it bans the practice of short-selling, which would speed up the market correction
  • By December 1930 factory employment has fallen by 16%, manufacturing production by 20%
  • Government expenses rise from 14.3% of Gross Private Product (GPP) in 1929 to 18.2% in 1930
  • May 1931: The crisis spreads to Europe with the run on the Austrian Boden-Kredit Anstalt – the Bank of England, the Austrian government, Rothschild, the Bank of International Settlements, and the New York Fed grant millions of dollars to it
  • In 1931 unemployment in the United States rises to 16%
  • Government expenses rise from 18.2% of GPP in 1930 to 24.3% in 1931
  • The Bacon-Davis act is passed in 1931, requiring a maximum 8 hr work day and payment of at least a prevailing wage on public works projects, thus increasing unemployment
  • By fall of 1931 all agitation to preserve wage rates proves futile and wages begin to fall
  • In fall of 1931 Stock Exchange authorities restrict short selling, prolonging the necessary adjustment of prices
  • In 1931, upon Hoover threatening Federal legislation, the largest US banks establish the National Credit Corporation which quickly moves to bail out failing banks, loaning $153 over a three month period, thus prolonging the misallocation of resources
  • In 1932 sales taxes are imposed on gasoline and other articles, new taxes are levied on bank checks, bond transfers, telephone, telegraph, and radio messages, income taxes are raised from a 1.5% – 5 % range to a 4%-8% range, the corporate income tax is raised from 12% to 13.75%, the gift tax of 33.33% is reinstated
  • Government intrusion increases from 24.3% of GPP in 1931 to 28.9% in 1932
  • In January of 1932 Congress hurriedly establishes the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), equipped with $500 million of taxpayer money, and empowered to issue further debentures of up to $1.5 billion
  • During the first 5 months of operation the RFC makes $1 billion worth of loans of which about 60% are lent to banks, and 20% to railroads whose securities are held by a lot of savings banks
  • In July 1932 the Emergency Relief and Construction Act increases the RFC’s authorized capital from $2 billion to $3.8 billion
  • Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York establishes the first governmental unemployment relief authority: the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, equipped with $25 million; other states quickly follow
  • In February 1932 the Glass-Steagall act is passed which greatly broadens the assets that the Federal Reserve Bank can purchase and permits it to use government bonds as collateral for its notes, in addition to commercial paper
  • Throughout 1932, the Federal Reserve increases its reserves by another $660 million to $2.51 billion, an unprecedented increase in history; the money supply keeps falling regardless, because commercial banks begin accumulating excess reserves; excess reserves rise from 2.4% in the first quarter of 1932 to 10.7% in the second
  • In July of 1932 the Federal Home Loan Bank Act establishes 12 district banks, equipped with $125 million of taxpayer money, and the authority to purchase mortgages at as low as 50% of value
  • In the beginning of 1933 many states impose compulsory debt moratoria, debt liquidations are halted
  • In 1933, bank failures rise to 4,000 from 1,453 in 1932
  • In 1933, as a response to increasing bank runs, states impose bank holidays, allowing banks not to redeem deposits
  • In March 1933 Hoover leaves office; as a result of his unprecedented government intervention, by now production has fallen by more than half from 1929, unemployment is at 25%, and GNP has fallen almost in half; the country is in the depths of the Great Depression
  • President Roosevelt continues Hoovers failed New Deal policies of massive government intervention. The US economy remains in a miserable state with above double digit unemployment until 1938 and with a horrible war lasting from then through 1945 during which people are forced to ration consumption and pay up to 90% taxes. The Depression comes to an end after WW2 when malinvestments are liquidated, taxes are but by 1/3 and government spending is cut by 2/3
  • Bottom Line: A recession that was the correction of a boom caused by government intervention in the money and credit market, was prolonged and turned into a decade long depression, again due to government intervention as a result of an unwillingness to let the correction occur clean and quickly.

2007 – 2008:

  • From 2000-2008 the percentage of government intrusion into the private sector increases steadily
  • Throughout 2007 and 2008 the Federal Reserve Bank lowers the federal funds rate from 5.25% in September 2006 to 1% by October 2008
  • Stock and Home Prices keep falling continuously
  • In December 2007 the Federal Reserve Bank introduces the Term Auction Facility (TAF) in order to purchase short term debt from troubled banks who need funds; so far it has injected about $400 billion under this program
  • On January 11, 2008, Bank of America announces that it plans to purchase the troubled bank Countrywide Financial for $4.1 billion in stock
  • In March 2008 the Federal Reserve Bank of New York provides an emergency loan to the troubled bank Bear Stearns; the measure proves useless and the bank is sold to JP Morgan Chase at $10 per share
  • In March 2008 the Federal Reserve announces that it will inject another $200 billion to battle the problems that banks are having with unsound investments
  • On September 7th 2008 the troubled semi-public banks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are taken over by the federal government; the banks own or guarantee about half of the U.S.’s $12 trillion mortgage market
  • In September 2008 the SEC imposes a temporary ban on short-selling
  • On September 16 2008, creates an $85 billion credit facility in order to support the troubled insurer AIG at the cost to AIG of the issuance of a stock warrant to the the Federal Reserve Bank for 79.9% of the equity of AIG
  • On October 3rd 2008 the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 establishes the Office of Financial Stability, equipped with up to $700 billion in order to buy worthless securities with the objective of stabilizing their prices, home prices continue to fall
  • So far, the combined total of all government actions taken in order to battle the depression have amounted up to $8 trillion – aggravating the crisis significantly
  • From November 07 to November 08 the Federal Reserve Bank more than doubles the amount of assets on its balance sheet by $1.2 trillion to now $2 trillion, but banks build up excess reserves and thus the effect on the money supply is minimal
  • As these lines are written the crisis spreads to the job market. All across the country people are beginning to lose their jobs and production/consumption figures are beginning to slow down significantly; due to the misguided government policy these numbers will, however, turn much worse as the crisis progresses
  • The new government, taking office in January 2009 will enact further measures of government intrusion, including public works programs, raise taxes, and increase the national debt, repeating the mistakes of the Great Depression
  • As things have played out so far 1929 has roughly resembled 2007 and 1930 has resembled 2008; 2009, 2010, and 2011 will most likely resemble 1931, 1932, and 1933


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Comments

16 Responses to “The Great Depression – Now and Then”

  1. Shauna Kaner on December 3rd, 2008 7:04 pm

    But what about Obama’s bailout plan for homeowners. That is something that will help all of us.

    My brother and my sister-in-law bought a small house in Palo Alto two years ago and can hardly make their monthly mortgage payments. What is your proposed solution to this very day-to-day problem? Do you seriously want them to move out with their newborn?

    I think that what you forget about in all this are the people. Having a sound economy is not everything.

  2. Nima on December 4th, 2008 3:47 am

    No, the people are precisely what I am concerned about. Did you actually read what I wrote above? Because your comment has really nothing to do with this article.

  3. Hilo on December 21st, 2008 11:32 pm

    Sounds like your brother and sister-in-law bought a house they couldn’t afford. The solution is to leave the house to the bank, and get a cheap apartment in South San Jose. In 2 years, they can buy their old house back at 50% today’s price.

  4. Ebony Alford on March 16th, 2009 11:58 pm

    I just wanted to leave a quick comment to thank you for your post! I really like your blog site!!! Would you mind terribly if I put up a backlink from my site to your site? Keep up the great work!

  5. Nima on March 17th, 2009 12:20 am

    Thanks Ebony. Feel free to link to any article in my blog that you like.

    Best,
    Nima

  6. Burton Haynes on February 12th, 2010 11:16 am

    Great post.

  7. Tim on February 20th, 2010 10:03 pm

    I am studying the Great Depression in history, and find it exceptionally odd that the only mention to FDR is that he continued Hoover’s “New Deal” policies (”New Deal” was coined by FDR, not Hoover, during the 1932 election campaign). FDR created 600′000 jobs through the Public Works Administration, helped 2.5million with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Along with other important pieces of legislation like the Tennessee Valley Authority, FDR helped lessen the effects of the Great Depression. He did not solve the problems, but he reduced them. Unemployment steadily decreased from 25% to 14.5% in 4 years, and it only started to rise again because he mistakenly attempted to balance the budget my cutting the New Deal budget. FDR did a lot to help the economy during the Great Depression, but what really solved it was when the US entered WW2, when all of a sudden mass production was required (of ammunition, weapons and food), and the economy started suddenly again. Obviously this won’t work this time because the US is already embroiled in two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan)

  8. Nima on February 22nd, 2010 2:16 am

    Thanks much for your comment, it is a great example of what people are taught these days when they “study” the Great Depression. I find it interesting with how much certainty you simply repeat that hilarious story that Americans are told in school and that we are all told every night on Fox News and CNN, assuming that it would be something new to me. Good luck to you in your journey …

  9. Koichi on February 28th, 2010 1:33 pm

    If the New Deal did prolong the economic crisis, then why did annual GDP recover after 1933? (Annual GDP posted 8 years of double digit growth between 1934 and 1944, period when FDR was in office). Is it solely because of the massive wartime orders from Europe? If that is the case then is it fair to say that US today, assuming the government continues to exacerbate the economy via intervention, will recover at a slower pace than it did after WWII barring major aid from countries outside?

    On the contrary, according to your most up-to-date “True Money Supply Change (YoY)” chart, the money supply change has not hit negative level as it did during the Great Depression. Not to mention, it looks a lot more stable. Does this mean that the current crisis is not as bad as the Great Depression? Or do you foresee a big spike down in the near future?

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

  10. Seb on August 4th, 2010 10:17 pm

    “The US economy remains in a miserable state with above double digit unemployment until 1938 and with a horrible war lasting from then through 1945 during which people are forced to ration consumption and pay up to 90% taxes.”

    I’m not sure quite what you mean by this. The US didn’t enter the war until 1941 (remember pearl harbor?), and didn’t begin rationing consumption until 1942.

    Overall, though, a lot of good point and astute observations, but if I were you I’d be careful about making the same sort of reactionary and shortsighted judgments that you notice others making.

    Good Luck.

  11. Nima on August 5th, 2010 12:42 am

    I sure remember Pearl Harbor and I also remember the sea blockade enforced by the US government which was one of the main reasons as to why the Japanese government ordered the suicide attacks.

    Thanks for the historical corrections on my dates. I do appreciate them!

  12. forex on August 24th, 2010 1:43 pm

    Thanks for the historical corrections on my dates. I do appreciate them!

  13. Remaley on January 13th, 2011 5:51 am

    love blog very much

  14. Thorstein Veblen on April 30th, 2012 7:26 pm

    Yes, I think it is worth mentioning that as much as we may not like FDR’s government interventionist policies, that they led to 8% GDP growth from 1933-1937. That’s the fastest growth the US has had in the past 100 years.

    Also, as “interventionist” as Hoover was, all of his programs were tiny as a share of GDP, and much smaller than the taxes he raised in the mistaken belief that he should balance GDP. He believed that the government shouldn’t get too involved in the banking system. He also believed that the government shouldn’t run deficits to stimulate aggregate demand.

    So, i think it’s more correct to label the Hoover era (with GDP contracting at 8% per year) as the laissez faire period, and the FDR New Deal government interventionist period (GDP growing at 8 percent per year). As much as you may hate that this is what happened, it is what it is. Insuring bank deposits and leaving the gold standard (which is more non-interventionist, actually) were the keys…

  15. Nima on April 30th, 2012 8:54 pm

    I think it is worth mentioning that as much as we may not like FDR’s government interventionist policies, that they led to 8% GDP growth from 1933-1937.

    Yes, I think it was about around the same level of average growth as Nazi Germany during the same period: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BSPDRWeltkriseEngl.PNG. I have yet to hear Roosevelt worshipers to publicly praise Hitler for his great economic policies. I have pointed out many times why I don’t think the GDP or it growth gives us any indication of the well being of the people in a certain territory and I don’t believe that your repeating those numbers above actually refutes any of the arguments that I have made.

    as “interventionist” as Hoover was, all of his programs were tiny as a share of GDP

    Government spending under Hoover rose from $3.81 billion to $5.1 billion on the federal level, from $11.7 billion to $12.6 billion in total, and from 12% to 22% (!!) of GDP in only 4 years, an absolute and relative peacetime RECORD (!!!) in the US up to that point. Plus what about the entire era from 1921 through 1929 with all its government programs and overreaches that I have meticulously listed above? It amazes me time and again how blithely statists can ignore the very causes of the crises they profess to be wanting to solve.

    Here is some more input I recorded in a video in case you’re interested: http://www.economicsjunkie.com/austerity-hoover-wars-the-great-depression/

    He believed that the government shouldn’t get too involved in the banking system. He also believed that the government shouldn’t run deficits to stimulate aggregate demand.

    Not that my article talks about what people “believed” as much as it is concerned with what they actually did, but just as a general piece of advice: When you make a statement like that, would you mind supplying the evidence that you’ve discovered to back it up, and also make sure you have dealt with and addressed all the counter evidence that exists in the form of statements and actions that completely contradict this theory. Otherwise it’s unfortunately a bit hard to take you serious.

    So, i think it’s more correct to label the Hoover era (with GDP contracting at 8% per year) as the laissez faire period, and the FDR New Deal government interventionist period (GDP growing at 8 percent per year).

    I think it is completely up to you how you prefer to “label” this or that era in US economic history. I am simply reporting on numbers that you have actually not refuted at all. But then don’t imply that I am making any statements because I “like” or “dislike” certain ideas, in particular if your OWN approach resembles that kind of reasoning at least just as much as mine supposedly does.

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