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Economist Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College has stirred up a bit of a fuss by concluding in some academic research that it was France, not the United States, that was most to blame for The Great Depression.
Irwin's theory, in a paper posted here by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is that France created an artificial shortage of gold reserves when it increased its share from 7 percent to 27 percent between 1927 and 1932. Because major currencies at the time were backed by gold under the Gold Standard, this put other countries under enormous deflationary pressure.
To prove his point, Irwin ran a model looking at what would have happened without the French move. The results:
Counterfactual simulations indicate that world prices would have increased slightly between 1929 and 1933, instead of declining calamitously.
The title of this post is taken from two sources. One was a headline in British tabloid, The Sun, in January 1979, when then-prime minister James Callaghan denied that strike-torn Britain was in chaos. The second was the title of a 1975 album by prog rock band Supertramp that famously showed someone sunbathing amidst the grey awfulness of the declining industrial landscape.
Are we now getting blasé about the latest crisis? Not so long ago, perfectly respectable economists and financial analysts were talking about a new Great Depression. The world was on the brink, it was said. Now, though, consensus appears to be that it is all over bar the shouting. The world is safe.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a name. We are living through "The Great Recession". Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, used the term to describe our current angst on a trip to Africa this week. He may not have been the first to use it -- we have found other citations, including JPMorgan -- but the guessing here is that it may stick with him because of his role.
It's a pretty neat moniker, actually. It resonates, of course, with "Great Depression" but without the soup lines and Hoovervilles. At the same time, it differentiates between the severe contraction now under way and run-of-the-mill economic misery. It also has the snappiness that media folks like -- hence this post.