The Great Debate UK
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.
- Richard Wellings is Deputy Editorial Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own.-
Argentina should be an object lesson for the U.S.
A century ago, it was one of the richest countries in the world. Today, it has fallen far behind Europe and North America, after a hundred years marked by long periods of recession.
- Alan Beattie is world trade editor at the Financial Times, and author of the recent book “False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World”. He studied history at Oxford and economics at Cambridge, and worked as a Bank of England economist before joining the FT. The opinions expressed are his own. -
Those who forget history are condemned to listen to historians going on and on about it, a fate almost as bad as listening to economists doing the same. (And I write as a double agent with a foot in both camps attempting the delicate task of bringing the two together in my new book)
Investors like simple narratives, which is why markets swing erratically and illogically between extremes of hope and fear. Reality is more complex. As F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time”.
LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) – Comparisons between the current downturn and the Great Contraction of 1929-33 have multiplied as commentators and investors have tried to forecast the recession’s likely depth and duration. But as the U.S. economy shows signs of stabilising and attention switches to future inflation the more useful comparison is actually with the 1940s.
The massive build up of highly liquid assets (cash and bank balances) during the Second World War is the closest parallel to the current escalation of bank reserves as a result of quantitative easing programmes in the United States and elsewhere around the world. The relatively modest pick up in consumer prices after the war ended may hold lessons for the outlook for inflation over the next five years.
There is a risk the commodity markets may have over-estimated the speed with which excess liquidity will be transformed into higher inflation and higher prices.
The outbreak of war was accompanied by an unprecedented build up of liquidity in the U.S. financial system. Deficit-financed spending on armaments and the war effort finally eliminated the persistent under-employment of the previous decade and ensured strong growth in corporate revenues and household incomes.
At the same time, households and firms had little opportunity to spend the money. The Federal Reserve imposed strict limits on consumer credit from September 1941 onwards. Consumer durables disappeared from the shops as the government first restricted then banned production of motor vehicles, refrigerators, washing machines and other electrical appliances for civilian use to conserve output capacity for the war effort.
The result was a massive increase in cash and bank balances. After having been flat for the previous 20 years, the amount of cash in circulation quadrupled from $6 billion to $25 billion between 1939 and 1945. Bank deposits more than doubled from $43 billion to $101 billion (https://customers.reuters.com/d/graphics/POSTWARADJUSTMENT.pdf). But while inflation rose when wartime price controls were lifted, the increase was nowhere near as much as expected given the massive overhang of liquidity which had built up.
To paraphrase Arthur Conan Doyle about the dog that did not bark at night time, the surprise was not that inflation rose so much after the war, but that it rose so little.
Consumer prices rose just 8 percent in 1946, 14 percent in 1947 and 8 percent in 1948, and actually declined in 1949 — and this was after the removal of extensive price controls that had limited increases for 5 years. There was no inflation outbreak.
from The Great Debate:
Intense criticism of the Fed's role in the financial rescue program and the decision to triple its balance sheet, including monetizing a portion of the Treasury's debt, has forced the central bank to issue an unusual defense of its actions (http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/press/monetary/20090323b.htm).
It attempts to placate critics by acknowledging the real risk of inflation, and marks the Fed's first attempt to set out an "exit strategy" for ending quantitative easing and other credit programs once the crisis is safely passed.