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Friday, October 10, 2008

What happend during The Great Depression ? Will it happen again ??

The Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn starting in most places in 1929 and ending at different times in the 1930s or early 1940s for different countries. It was the largest and most important economic depression in modern history, and is used in the 21st century as a benchmark on how far the world's economy can fall. The Great Depression originated in the United States; historians most often use as a starting date the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. The end of the depression in the U.S. is associated with the onset of the war economy of World War II, beginning around 1939.[1]

The depression had devastating effects both in the developed and developing world. International trade was deeply affected, as were personal incomes, tax revenues, prices, and profits. Cities all around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by 40 to 60 percent.[2][3] Facing plummeting demand with few alternate sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries such as farming, mining and logging suffered the most.[4] Even shortly after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, optimism persisted. John D. Rockefeller said that "These are days when many are discouraged. In the 93 years of my life, depressions have come and gone. Prosperity has always returned and will again."[5]

The Great Depression ended at different times in different countries; for subsequent history see Home front during World War II.
The Great Depression was not a sudden total collapse. The stock market turned upward in early 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, though still almost 30 percent below the peak of September 1929.[6] Together, government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year. But consumers, many of whom had suffered severe losses in the stock market the previous year, cut back their expenditures by ten percent, and a severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland of the USA beginning in the northern summer of 1930.

In early 1930, credit was ample and available at low rates, but people were reluctant to add new debt by borrowing.[citation needed] By May 1930, auto sales had declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices in general began to decline, but wages held steady in 1930, then began to drop in 1931. Conditions were worst in farming areas, where commodity prices plunged, and in mining and logging areas, where unemployment was high and there were few other jobs. The decline in the American economy was the factor that pulled down most other countries at first, then internal weaknesses or strengths in each country made conditions worse or better. Frantic attempts to shore up the economies of individual nations through protectionist policies, such as the 1930 U.S. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and retaliatory tariffs in other countries, exacerbated the collapse in global trade. By late in 1930, a steady decline set in which reached bottom by March 1933.

There were multiple causes for the first downturn in 1929, including the structural weaknesses and specific events that turned it into a major depression and the way in which the downturn spread from country to country. In relation to the 1929 downturn, historians emphasize structural factors like massive bank failures and the stock market crash, while economists (such as Peter Temin and Barry Eichengreen) point to Britain's decision to return to the Gold Standard at pre-World War I parities (US$4.86:£1).

Main article: Causes of the Great Depression
Recession cycles are thought to be a normal part of living in a world of inexact balances between supply and demand. What turns a usually mild and short recession or "ordinary" business cycle into a great depression is a subject of debate and concern. Scholars have not agreed on the exact causes and their relative importance. The search for causes is closely connected to the question of how to avoid a future depression, and so the political and policy viewpoints of scholars are mixed into the analysis of historic events eight decades ago. The even larger question is whether it was largely a failure on the part of free markets or largely a failure on the part of governments to curtail widespread bank failures, the resulting panics, and reduction in the money supply. Those who believe in a large role for governments in the economy believe it was mostly a failure of the free markets and those who believe in free markets believe it was mostly a failure of government that compounded the problem.

Current theories may be broadly classified into three main points of view. First, there is orthodox classical economics: monetarist, Austrian Economics and neoclassical economic theory, all of which focus on the macroeconomic effects of money supply and the supply of gold which backed many currencies before the Great Depression, including production and consumption.

Chart 1: USA GDP annual pattern and long-term trend, 1920-40, in billions of constant dollars[7].Second, there are structural theories, most importantly Keynesian, but also including those of institutional economics, that point to underconsumption and overinvestment (economic bubble), malfeasance by bankers and industrialists, or incompetence by government officials. The only consensus viewpoint is that there was a large-scale lack of confidence. Unfortunately, once panic and deflation set in, many people believed they could make more money by keeping clear of the markets as prices got lower and lower and a given amount of money bought ever more goods.

Third, there is the Marxist critique of political economy. This emphasizes contradictions within capital itself (which is viewed as a social relation involving the appropriation of surplus value) as giving rise to an inherently unbalanced dynamic of accumulation resulting in an overaccumulation of capital, culminating in periodic crises of devaluation of capital. The origin of crisis is thus located firmly in the sphere of production, though economic crisis can be aggravated by problems of disproportionality of over-production in the manufacturing and related production sectors and the underconsumption of the masses.
is seen as one of the causes of the Great Depression[citation needed], particularly in the United States[citation needed]. Macroeconomists including Ben Bernanke, the current chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, have revived the debt-deflation view[citation needed] of the Great Depression originated by Arthur Cecil Pigou and Irving Fisher:[citation needed] in the 1920s, American consumers and businesses relied on cheap credit[citation needed], the former to purchase consumer goods such as automobiles and furniture, and the latter for capital investment to increase production[citation needed]. This fueled strong short-term growth but created consumer and commercial debt[citation needed]. People and businesses who were deeply in debt when price deflation occurred or demand for their product decreased often risked default[citation needed]. Many drastically cut current spending to keep up time payments, thus lowering demand for new products. Businesses began to fail as construction work and factory orders plunged.

Massive layoffs occurred, resulting in US unemployment rates of over 25% by 1933. Banks which had financed this debt began to fail as debtors defaulted on debt and depositors attempted to withdraw their deposits en masse, triggering multiple bank runs. Government guarantees and Federal Reserve banking regulations to prevent such panics were ineffective or not used. Bank failures led to the loss of billions of dollars in assets.[8] Outstanding debts became heavier, because prices and incomes fell by 20–50% but the debts remained at the same dollar amount. After the panic of 1929, and during the first 10 months of 1930, 744 US banks failed. (In all, 9,000 banks failed during the 1930s). By 1933, depositors had lost $140 billion in deposits.[8]

Bank failures snowballed as desperate bankers called in loans which the borrowers did not have time or money to repay. With future profits looking poor, capital investment and construction slowed or completely ceased. In the face of bad loans and worsening future prospects, the surviving banks became even more conservative in their lending.[8] Banks built up their capital reserves and made fewer loans, which intensified deflationary pressures. A vicious cycle developed and the downward spiral accelerated. This kind of self-aggravating process may have turned a 1930 recession into a 1933 great depression.The Great Depression in the United States began on "Black Tuesday" with the Wall Street crash of October, 1929 and rapidly spread worldwide. The market crash marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profits, deflation and lost opportunities for economic growth and personal advancement in the United States. Although its causes are still uncertain, the basic cause was a sudden loss of confidence in the economic future. The traditional explanation is a combination of high consumer debt, ill-regulated markets that permitted malfeasance by banks and investors, cutbacks in foreign trade, and growing wealth inequality, all interacting to create a downward economic spiral of reduced spending and production. The initial government response to the crisis exacerbated the situation; protectionist policies like the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, rather than helping the economy, merely strangled global trade. Industries that suffered the most included agriculture, mining, and logging as well as durable goods like construction and automobiles that people postponed.

The depression caused major political changes, the most notable among them being the New Deal, which instituted large-scale federal relief programs aimed to aid the agricultural industry and support labor unions. The formation of the New Deal coalition by President Franklin D. Roosevelt was another notable accomplishment. This disaster had a profound effect on the psychology of an entire generation and strongly influenced the development of postwar monetary institutions. The Great Depression remains a benchmark for evaluating financial downturns, such as the Economic crisis of 2008.
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