Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Did France cause the Great Depression?

By Douglas Irwin
A large body of research has linked the gold standard to the severity of the Great Depression. This column argues that while economic historians have focused on the role of tightened US monetary policy, not enough attention has been given to the role of France, whose share of world gold reserves soared from 7% in 1926 to 27% in 1932. It suggests that France’s policies directly account for about half of the 30% deflation experienced in 1930 and 1931.

A large body of economic research has linked the gold standard to the length and severity of the Great Depression of the 1930s, primarily because fixed exchange rates precluded the use of monetary policy to address the crisis (see for example Temin 1989, Eichengreen 1992, and Bernanke 1995)
But it has never been entirely clear why the gold standard produced the massive worldwide price deflation experienced between 1929 and 1933 and the enormous economic difficulties that followed. In particular, worldwide gold reserves expanded continuously through the 1920s and 1930s, so it is not obvious why the system self-destructed and produced such a cataclysm. Full article here

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