Understanding Fiscal Policy During the Great Depression

by on November 10, 2008 at 7:45 am in Economics | Permalink

My little spat with with Rauchway regarding unemployment during the Great Depression draws in Paul Krugman.  Krugman doesn’t respond to any of my arguments but he does give us the old line that fiscal policy didn’t fail during the Great Depression it wasn’t tried.

Now, you might say that the incomplete recovery shows that “pump-priming”, Keynesian fiscal policy doesn’t work. Except that the New Deal didn’t pursue Keynesian policies. Properly measured, that is, by using the cyclically adjusted deficit, fiscal policy was only modestly expansionary, at least compared with the depth of the slump. Here’s the Cary Brown estimates, from Brad DeLong…Net stimulus of around 3 percent of GDP – not much, when you’ve got a 42 percent output gap.

Now there is actually a lot of truth to this but the way in which Krugman, Rauchway, DeLong and others present this point is esoteric and likely to mislead even many economists.  What Krugman seems to be saying is that the government didn’t spend enough during the thirties (Rauchway, who also cites Cary Brown, says directly "there was never enough spending to achieve the desired effect.")  Yet federal spending during this time increased tremendously.  So what is really going on?  The answer is actually quite simple.

During the Great Depression federal expenditures increased tremendously but so did taxes.  Thus, the reason spending was not stimulative was not that spending wasn’t tried it’s that taxes were also raised to prohibitive levels.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read Cary Brown (JSTOR) whom Krugman, Rauchway, DeLong all cite but none of whom quote at length.  Here is Brown:   

The primary failure of fiscal policy to be expansive in this period is attributable to the sharp increases in tax structures enacted at all levels of government.  Total government purchases of goods and services expanded virtually every year, with federal expansion especially marked in 1933 and 1934.  [But] the federal Revenue Act of 1932 virtually doubled full employment tax yields…

…the highly deflationary impact of this tax law has not been fully appreciated…The Revenue Act of 1932 pushed up rates virtually across the board, but notably on the lower and middle income groups….Personal income tax exemptions were slashed, the normal-tax as well as surtax rates were sharply raised, and the earned-income credit equal to 25 percent of taxes on low income was repealed.  Less drastic changes were made in the corporate income tax, but its rate was raised slightly and a $3000 exemption eliminated.  Estates tax rates were pushed up, exemptions sharply reduced, and a gift tax was provided.  Congress toyed with a manufacturers’ sales tax, but finally rejected it in favor of a broad new list of excise taxes and substantially higher rates for old ones….

The Revenue Act of 1932 was followed by many further tax increases (e.g. Brown notes "…social security taxes began in 1937 to exert a pronounced effect…") many of them, under pressure from the Huey Long wing, designed to "Share our Wealth." Here is a graph of the highest marginal income tax rate which went from 25% to 79% between 1929 and 1940 and here is a graph of the lowest marginal income tax rate which (from a low base) increased by a factor of 10.  (Hat tip to Carpe Diem).

Thus, an accurate portrayal of fiscal policy during the Great Depression – entirely consistent with Krugman – is that we had much greater spending, much greater taxes and not much economic stimulus.  And if supporters of the New Deal argue that fiscal policy was only "modestly expansionary" then it’s quite reasonable to think that once we take into account the supply side effect of taxes and the increase in regime uncertainty then the net effect might even have been contractionary. 

Alex Tabarrok November 10, 2008 at 7:47 am

Please do keep comments civil and focused on economics. I think everyone would appreciate this. Thank you.

Anonymous November 10, 2008 at 8:11 am

Paraphrasing GK Chesterton:

“Capitalism has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Nylund November 10, 2008 at 8:27 am

79%! And later in the century it was 90%. Nowadays you’d think 39.6% is the highest its ever been.

In the Monday Op-Ed column, Krugman does mention the federal tax increases and throws in a line about state/local spending cuts and tax increases.

I think, overall, everyone is agreeing, but quibbling a bit about the phrasing, but where we should really be worrying about phrasing is in the present, not the past.

I think there is a consensus that what currently needs to happen is that gov’t spending has to increase and taxes should not. But, we already know that in my states/cities, spending will DECREASE (and taxes may go up), so the Fed. Gov’t will have to counteract those local spending cuts as well as spend more on top of that.

Ideally, the gov’t would have saved up some surpluses from higher taxes during the good times, but our gov’t runs by the philosophy, “things are bad? Cut Taxes! Things are good? Cut Taxes!” Hopefully there is never a Bird Flu pandemic for I fear that too many think tanks would actually write that the cure, once again, was to cut taxes.

So we may not be able to do completely what we ought to do. We do know that s fiscal is more effective the more poorer people get that money because of their higher marginal rates. So the currently planned tax cuts to the lower and middle class seem to be the right idea. Its just that increase for the wealthiest 95% that is open for debate. Be sure to avoid any false equivalences here. we’re talking a 4.6%, not 55% of the 1930’s and it must be kept in mind that we weren’t stocking up reserves from surpluses these past few years like we “should have.”

I think most people agree that massive infrastructure spending seems like a good idea too. But, we have to stop this “running a deficit in a boom” problem thats plagued us for the last 30 years (minus the surplus years at the tail end of the 90’s). So, it should be made very clear that when things get better, we have to start making a surplus again, which will require both slashes in spending, and increases in taxes.

Paul from Florida November 10, 2008 at 8:44 am

“I think most people agree that massive infrastructure spending seems
like a good idea too.”

I don’t. Most projects seem in and of themselves a waste, if not counterproductive.

” But, we have to stop this “running a deficit in a boom” problem thats plagued us for the last 30 years (minus the surplus years at the tail end of the 90’s). So, it should be made very clear that when things get better, we have to start making a surplus again, which will require both slashes in spending, and increases
in taxes.”


Yeah, next time we will get central, political spending correct.

RobbL November 10, 2008 at 9:03 am

Alex,

I don’t think Krugman is being “drawn in” to your spat. He is drawn in to the debate between Wilson and Rauchway to which you are a kibitzer…

Cyrus November 10, 2008 at 9:19 am

Given the post-war recession, one could argue that aside from the anomalous wartime economy, the Depression wasn’t over until 1950.

Ironman November 10, 2008 at 9:28 am

Confirming Alex’s point regarding taxes going up during the Great Depression – here’s Mark Perry’s post showing the changes in tax rates for top income earners and here’s his follow up post showing the changes in tax rates for the lowest income earners.

It’s as if the government wanted lots of money for something.

GA November 10, 2008 at 10:04 am

I think Nylund (above) gets closest to the point here by saying “I think there is a consensus that what currently needs to happen is that gov’t spending has to increase and taxes should not.”

The point that Nylund gets to a moment later that is key is that _overall_ taxes should not increase much, but taxes _for certain groups_ can rise or fall. As the source you cite extensively puts it, “…the highly deflationary impact of this tax law has not been fully appreciated…The Revenue Act of 1932 pushed up rates virtually across the board, but _notably on the lower and middle income groups_”.

An overall tax increase (or better, a neutral overall tax reform) can still be stimulative if it concentrates the tax cuts on those with a higher marginal propensity to spend: i.e. the lower and middle income groups.

This is not inconsistent with a) much of what Krugman, Obama and others are saying, that cutting taxes for 95% while raising them at the top end is not the same as a huge tax increase, or b) saying that the demented form of supply side-ism (cutting taxes _for the high income earners_ – e.g. in certain tax cuts of a certain future ex-President – will stimulate the economy and will result in higher tax revenue) is flat-out wrong.

It is entirely consistent with saying that any tax cuts/fiscal measures should be focused on lower-income groups, and genuflecting in the direction of fiscal balance (even if only symbolic) by raising taxes on high-income groups may not be that bad, particularly if the marginal tax rates at that level don’t get out of hand.

Indiana Norm November 10, 2008 at 10:28 am

Hey, what happened to the infamous “balanced budget multiplier?” that Paul Samuelson et. al. taught generations of students. You know, raising government spending and taxes by equal amounts increases GDP by that same amount! Never mind, of course,that this means people are producing the addition GDP for no bump in their net of tax income.

Amicus November 10, 2008 at 11:15 am

And if supporters of the New Deal argue that fiscal policy …
==
How did we end up sweeping the _1932_ tax hikes into ‘fiscal policy of the New Deal’ that supporters must cope with?

Meanwhile, on your own calculations and arguments, it looks like the Obama plan skips over obvious objections: his likely tax policy is altogether quite different than Depression Era.

spencer November 10, 2008 at 12:01 pm

You are right about the tax act of 1932.

But what does this have to do with the New Deal.

It was enacted and had its impact well before FDR took office.

Get your time lines right.

Or is just another example of your analytical mode of reaching a conclusion and feverishly searching for any data point that will support it?

Gabe November 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Writes P. Gauthier:
Does anyone fell dumb for supporting Paulson’s plan now that they are taking advantage of the non-review clauses to give 2 trillion dollars to unknown groups?

Tyeler and Alex, you helped support outright thieves…2 trillion would be better spent by giving $26,000 to every household in the country. Instead they stole the money fromt eh people and gave it to the billionaires you serve…good job guys.

The Federal Reserve has still refused to say who they gave $2 trillion to, and what they took as collateral. Bloomberg is suing to find out the answers.

the buggy professor November 10, 2008 at 12:43 pm

1) This is a stimulating debate and exchange, another in the series here at the Marginal Revolution (and elsewhere) on the Great Depression and — explicitly or implicitly — the relevance of New Deal policies to our existing financial and economic problems . . . or, in the view of many, not just problems but crisis on a global level.

2) As a general thing, Alex and others who criticize the big tax rise of 1932 — a year not referred to, I believe, in Alex’s post — are probably right.

Only fair to add, though, that it was Herbert Hoover’s administration that raised the marginal tax rate on very rich people — essentially, those with incomes around $14 million or higher in today’s dollars — from 25% to 63%, while simultaneously raising the tax rate at the margin on low-income Americans from 1% to 4%.

To repeat — the tax increases were NOT part of the New Deal programs. They were implemented by Herbert Hoover, whose various policies (as one poster here noted rightly) foreshadowed virtually all of the New Deal policies on a more modest scale.

….

Note, if only in passing, though: Hoover had cut taxes in 1929 — especially on the top income earners. Those cuts, which continued a trend practiced by all Republican administrations in the 1920s to bring down the marginal and average rates that had reached a high level in WWI, didn’t do anything to stem the huge decline in GDP after the stock market crash: a decline of nearly a third of US GDP, with serious deflation and soaring unemployment . . . an economic crisis without parallel not just in US, but globally.

And it was the Hoover administration that passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff increase of 1930 . . . even though Hoover personally knew free trade was a better policy. He had no choice. The Republican Party was the champion of tariff policies for several decades by then. It was the FDR era that began reversing that ill-advised restrictive trade practice, urging free trade from 1936 on.

3) A political interlude. The political horrors that the Great Depression helped to bring about.

The Nazi Party had about 4% of the German vote before 1929. By early 1933, when Hitler came to power legally, that vote rose to 42% in the last free election. All over Europe, by 1933, right-wing militarist or fascist regimes were in power except in Scandinavia, Holland, Switzerland, and Britain . . . with France increasingly in that decade so torn by class-strife and political polarization that it was suffering by 1939 from an incipient civil war. And, further to the east, was the mass-murdering slave-labor Stalinist Soviet Union. And in Asia, Japan had invaded Manchuria in 1932; invaded China in 1936; and was on a course that would inevitably lead to war with the US, Britain, France, and the Dutch in Indonesia.

Somehow, conservatives and libertarians seem unaware these days just horrific the political fall-out of the Great Depression was. Or how bleak it looked from America. With Britain very badly overstretched to deal with these problems in Europe, Asia, the Indian sub-continent . . . at a time when Indian nationalism was also on the rise.)

4) Rewind in fast motion now back to the News Deal and the Great Depression era.

FDR only raised taxes slightly . . . mainly, unfortunately, in unintended regressive ways: especially a new payroll tax on the new social security system in 1936-37 that almost certainly did help cause — along with the Federal Reserve’s tightening the money supply — the short-lived but fairly large recession of late 1937 and early 1938. There was a reduction of about 13% in GDP and a rise in unemplyment from the 1936 low of 9.9% (Darby correction of the official statistics, counting WPA workers) to 12.5%).

FDR did try to impose a new tax on corporate profits, but Congress rejected them in 1937. Otherwise, he did nothing to raise income taxes that he inherited from the Hoover administration.

So — if high marginal or average taxes are to blame in part for prolonging or worsening the Great Depression in the US, it isn’t mainly a misguided policy that can be traced back to the New Deal. The responsibility can be traced back to policies introduced by Hoover, and reinforced by the new payroll tax in 1937 . . . plus, it should be added, local and state governments increasing sales and other taxes, desperate as these governments were for revenue.

….

5 ) What FDR can be faulted for — contrary to Alex’s tendencies to criticize the New Deal’s tax policies — is his adherence to fiscal “austerity.”

For contrary to the stereotyped view, FDR himself feared deficit spending . . . a fear that was no small part behind Hoover’s tax-increases of 1932. And so at most the New Deal moved surplus federal revenues to neutral spending by the federal government and, off and on, slight deficits as a percentage of GDP or in real terms.

And hence, as Krugman and others note, this was a big reduction in any multiplier effects to increase aggregate demand in the midst of the Great Depression.

John Maynard Keynes, visiting FDR, came away from his meeting thinking that FDR — far from being a disciple of his new theoretical stress on fiscal spending to stimulate GDP growth in the Depression — was a fiscal conservative.

….

6) Enter the main problem in making sense of what happened in the New Deal era. It was introduced a couple of days ago by Tyler: there was good and even impressive GDP growth between 1933’s start and the end of 1940 when we began to rearm in naval and airplane production even before we entered WWII in very late 1941. But, despite such growth, there was still high unemployment: 11.2 in Darby’s calculations, and 17.% in the official figures that exclude WPA workers.

Here are the puzzling figures:

GNP — to use that concept — grew by 34% between the start of 1933 and 1936.

Despite the brief 1937-38 recession, GNP was 58% higher than in 1933’s start. To make sure you grasp how fast that growth was, the growth of GNP in the 5 years of US wartime — including the 1940 peacetime rearming — was 56%. In short, however you view it, the New Deal era between 1933 and 1940 witnessed a huge growth rate in national income from the Great Depression trough of 1932 (when, to repeat, it was down 33% or so from the 1929 level).

….

And yet — the puzzle — unemployment was still high. Somehow, some way, the big productivity growth that accompanied this bursting GNP growth (and especially after 1937) did not generate job growth anywhere near that rate.

7) Note something similar, even if on a much lower level, to conclude this fast, top-skimming survey.

The US recession of 2001 lasted three quarters and was small peanuts in GDP loss. But, surprisingly, though the recession ended by the start of October 2001, job growth lagged noticeably behind the recovery of the economy. So much so that in fact unemployment continued to rise for nearly 20 months after the recovery began: a rise from roughly 5.0% t 6.3%.

And, please note, this was a recovery — very likely similar to the recovery of US GNP after the 1937-38 recession — accompanied by major leaps ahead in labor productivity.

…..

Michael Gordon, Aka, the buggy professor

Mike D November 10, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Regarding labor productivity growth and employment growth during the GD: Am I the only one who thinks there’s an easy solution to this?

Remember that labor productivity depends both on the position of the labor demand curve (technology, investment, aggregate demand) and where you are on that labor demand curve (labor supply, labor taxes, collective bargaining, minimum wages).

Post 1933, we would expect to see labor demand growing due to all the usual long-run factors, plus increasing AD. This would tend to boost both real wages and employment.

But we also would probably have seen a shift left along the labor demand curve due to increasing labor taxes and increasingly strong unions and minimum wage laws, pushing the wage above market-clearing.

Post 1934, real wages recovered, but employment growth was weak. Ergo, some combination of growth in labor demand and decrease in effective labor supply.

It is interesting to note that until recently, labor market reforms in Europe seemed to be producing the opposite result (increased employment, but no real wage growth). The explanation is not mysterious: reform/deregulation of the labor market increased the effective supply of labor, causing the normal long-run trend increase in labor demand to be ‘taken as’ increased employment instead of increased wages.

DanC November 10, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Krugman clearly wants a bigger government and is using the current crisis to justify it.

If an increase in payroll taxes stalled the FDR recovery, as some claim here, then why has President elect Obama said that he would like to increase payroll taxes on those earning more then $100,000 by 12.4%.

happyjuggler0 November 10, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Regarding labor productivity growth and employment growth during the GD: Am I the only one who thinks there’s an easy solution to this?

Posted by: Mike D at Nov 10, 2008 1:30:56 PM

No, you aren’t the only one.

I have long observed that European countries with substantially lower GDP than the US (with the US being about 33% higher GDP per capita), and much higher unemployment, somehow have essentially the same productivity as the US.

The “obvious” solution to the per capita productivity puzzle is that when you make the least productive members of society unemployable via high minimum wages, huge union favoritism (crowding out nonunion members), and huge penalties for layoffs or reducing hours, that you are taking the least productive individuals out of your employment sample, thus skewing the mean and median averages higher. This creates the illusion of successful government policies in the productivity data.

phineas November 10, 2008 at 3:19 pm

My thanks to Micheal Gordon, above, for delivering the figures about GNP growth during the 1930s. From 1933 on, the country had major increases in GNP together with major increases in labor productivity. That’s the defintion of a golden age of economic progress. I credit this accomplishment to the general economic culture of the country; and Federal gov’t actions deserve no credit for it.

Mr. econotarian November 10, 2008 at 4:14 pm

I can’t see anything but macro problems in the Great Depression. Between 1929 and 1934 we experienced massive deflation before FDR devalued. Four years of people being out of work has got to create some real long-term problems.

Hoover didn’t think we could abandon the Gold Standard because of “gold clauses” in mortgages, and abandoning the gold standard would make debtors never be able to pay off their debts. In June, 1933, Congress passed the Gold Clause Ban (HJR 192), which made it safe to devalue, which occurred during

Had Hoover had the ability/will to devalue in 1929, I suspect the Great Depression would have been much shorter, and we might not have had so much of FDR’s policies that hurt growth.

David Wright November 10, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Barry: Oh look, there is “1984 Reagan” right next to “1936 Roosevelt” in your “very interesting graph”. Does this prove that trickle-down economics works? Or does it just prove that examining electoral victory margins is a stupid way to do economic history?

datadave November 10, 2008 at 6:02 pm

This discussion is apt. Reading more and more about the US economy of the 1920s and are present era draws stark parallels. Taxes were radically lowered for upper incomes by Harding/Cooledge (approx. equal to the present Bush Admin.) Whereas Herbert Hoover inherited the wrenching inequality of that era. History hasn’t treated Hoover fairly imo. He was mostly a great humanitarian but his hands were tied by the the conservative ideology of the time. (another parallel with today.) FDR used the economy as a cudgel to beat the Republicans but in fact in the ’32 race accused Hoover of being ‘socialistic’ and even wanted to balance the budget on the backs of the many, not just the well-off. Only “progressives” such as his wife and the “Brain Trusters” pushed back plus competition from populists like Huey Long and Upton Sinclair. FDR started to ‘get Keynesian econ. but ever the aristocrat, he reluctantly embraced it.

proof is above: ““The Revenue Act of 1932 pushed up rates virtually across the board, but notably on the lower and middle income groups….Personal income tax exemptions were slashed, the normal-tax as well as surtax rates were sharply raised, and the earned-income credit equal to 25 percent of taxes on low income was repealed.”

I want to see full employment by the end of Obama’s term..relatively. As reports come in the young who embraced Obama the most are presently the greatest victims of Wall Street’s excesses and lack of trickle-down. People can’t afford rent and are living in their cars or parent’s houses or other friend’s places and barely getting by. And the downturn really has just started.

Obama seems to realize he has to be more action oriented than FDR, his tax cuts for the middle class are perfectly sensible….contrasted with FDR’s. However taxing the rich is another thing…even after a downturn they are so flush with cash and indeed it is their patriotic duty to help this nation rebuild after a decade of unjustified “Financialization” that added nothing to the general well-being except a rarified elite oft. centered in Greenwich, Conn.

Grant November 10, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Why are we looking at unemployment data at all? Has anyone ever doubted the ability for the government to tax and employ large numbers of people? Obviously if your metric for economic success is low employment, getting that via policy is a no-brainer.

I’d think best the metric would be productive employment that directed labor towards the greatest marginal gains. Did the New Deal increase real wealth in the economy, or just employment?

Lord November 10, 2008 at 8:28 pm

As Krugman points out The General Theory didn’t come out until 1936. The economic orthodoxy and popular political policy of the time was balanced budgets.

A more interesting question is why deflation was so severe. After WWI, during the following recession the Fed changed from a gold standard to a price stability standard. A gold standard is always mildly deflationary, but stable prices over the 20s caused a large discrepancy between their stable prices and their gold prices. Conventional policy would have been contractionary without FDR.

Dale Moeses November 11, 2008 at 8:11 am

Tyler Cowen Wrote:

I guess now everyone will drop the calls for increasing taxes significantly. I am glad to hear of such a happy ending.

___________

Unlikely. The expansionary policy works because the government takes on debt. Look at your basic GDP equation [GDP = consumption + gross investment + government spending + (exports − imports), or,
GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)]

Consumption and Gross investment are reduced by taxes. If you increase taxes at the same rate as you increase government spending then GDP stays stagnant or contracts. Its the debt that the government takes on that expands the GDP and kick-starts growth.

Higher taxes are only stifling if there is a strong elasticity in the markets where its implemented. This means(afaik) you would want low business taxes and low low/middle income personal taxes and high upper income personal taxes to maximize your return. And specific implementation in that manner can lead to increased revenues without significant contracting effects on the economy. This would then allow you to take on even more debt to spend your way out of the recession. But its the fact that the government is taking on debts, and not the rate that the government is taxing that has the positive effects on growth.

We can clearly see that by the growth that was kick started during the New Deal when we were dealing with massive marginal tax rates. Its that spending was increased [i]even more than taxes were[/i], not that taxes were high.

Certainly at some point in the future when we have to cope with the fact that we have too much debt. Modifying our tax structure now is not going to have significant negative effects unless its done foolishly[which would be increasing taxes on the middle class, decreasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing business taxes]. What is going to matter is how much spending changes in relation to revenues.

Yancey Ward November 11, 2008 at 9:42 am

I see the money illusion continues unabated.

Consumption and investment are not money- money is the measuring stick only. Consumption and investment are real items like food, televisions, concrete, computers, and bulldozers.

marmico November 11, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Thus, an accurate portrayal of fiscal policy during the Great Depression… much greater taxes

Federal government sales and excise tax revenues increased but personal income tax and corporate income tax revenues declined as a percentage of GDP during the GD.

According to Saez (Table AO) only about 8% of eligible individual tax units even filed income tax returns. The tax table is here. In other words, high income taxpayers paid the bulk of income taxes in the GD just like they do today.

Conflating high individual marginal tax rates with much greater taxes is bunk.

pgl November 11, 2008 at 1:24 pm

“This doesn’t even include increase in state taxes during this period.” – DanC

A couple of updates to my EconoSpeak post. #1 – I do include a graph of total government revenues relative to GDP. Also – Alex commented over at our blog that total government SPENDING did rise significantly. My post was about government purchases, which did not jump as early and radically. The difference, I guess? Increases in transfer payments.

marmico November 11, 2008 at 8:45 pm

These charts make the New Deal look like FDR was trying to tax the country to prosperity.

Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act on June 17, 1930 and The Revenue Act of 1932 on June 6, 1932. Roosevelt assumed office on March 4, 1933. Never let facts trump ideology.

marmico November 12, 2008 at 1:28 am

Interesting point, Yancey. IMO, rolling the tax rate back would have made no difference when it came to tax collections. Back in that day individual income tax receipts were only ~1% of GDP, almost negligible.

The average annual wage in 1929 was ~$2,000 which declined to ~$1200 in 1933. You can view a 1960 era NBER paper here for verification. The personal exemption for a married couple with 3 dependents (tax unit) was $3700. So by 1933 the tax unit needed to be making 3X the average wage to be taxable at an 8% marginal rate. So if you earned 5X the average wage in 1933 (call it George Mason PhDs today), your effective tax rate would be 2%. Tabarrok wouldn’t whine on his way to the cellar.

Effectively, income deflation was the income tax rollback.

Now whenever everyone on this blog gets in a hullaballoo about Hoover’s increase in the marginal tax rate from 25% to 63%, remember that $1 million in 1932 dollars was the magic income number to place you in that bracket. It was a badge of honor.

the buggy professor November 12, 2008 at 7:52 pm

I finally had some time to check the BEA’s recalculations — which use a chained-link GDP deflator — for the trends in GDP growth during the 1930s. Click here for those updated figures.

They’re more or less in line with the data I reported on above, though the biggest change is in the calculation of GDP’s fall in the brief recession of 1937-38. I said 13%. Way out of line. It turns out that it was 3.4% — which actually makes the persistence of high unemployment into 1940 even more puzzling.

It fell from the high-point of 20.6% in 1933(Darby’s 1973 recalculations) to 9.1% in 1937, just as the recession started. It then rose to 12.5% in 1938, fell back to 11.3 % in 1939, and was still 9.5% in 1940 . . . when a mild rearmament program was underway.

……….

How strong GDP trend-growth between the end of 1933 and the end of 1940 — coinciding with strong growth in productivity — would coincide with persistently high unemployment in the latter part of the 1930s (1937-1940) is the puzzler.

The only period since then that parallels this combination is in the recovery after the brief recession of 2001: unemployment actually peaked 21 months into the recovery (from October 2001 to May 2003) at around 6.3% . . . and yet GDP growth was generally strong in those nearly two years. As was, remember, productivity growth.

Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor

Marc November 14, 2008 at 11:35 am

Anybody remember Ayn Rand? 95% of nothing is nothing.

Auzzie January 2, 2009 at 1:16 am

The marginal tax rate was low until 1931. Are you saying that low taxes caused / exacerbated the Great Depression?

If so where are we in 2009 in the depression/economic cycle? 2009=1930!!

nana May 13, 2009 at 2:57 am

Everything is decided by the market instead of any single human being’s personal feeling.
But opportunity and efforts are same important on the way to yr goal.
Like the aion gold performance in the market.

macheal May 13, 2009 at 2:59 am

Is it realistic?

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