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Did France Cause the Great Depression?

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  • Douglas A. Irwin

Abstract

The gold standard was a key factor behind the Great Depression, but why did it produce such an intense worldwide deflation and associated economic contraction? While the tightening of U.S. monetary policy in 1928 is often blamed for having initiated the downturn, France increased its share of world gold reserves from 7 percent to 27 percent between 1927 and 1932 and effectively sterilized most of this accumulation. This “gold hoarding” created an artificial shortage of reserves and put other countries under enormous deflationary pressure. Counterfactual simulations indicate that world prices would have increased slightly between 1929 and 1933, instead of declining calamitously, if the historical relationship between world gold reserves and world prices had continued. The results indicate that France was somewhat more to blame than the United States for the worldwide deflation of 1929-33. The deflation could have been avoided if central banks had simply maintained their 1928 cover ratios.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16350.

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Date of creation: Sep 2010
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Publication status: published as “ Le France a-t- elle Causé la Grande Dép ression? ” Revue Française d’économ ie 25 (April 2 01 1) : 3-10 .
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16350

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  1. Accominotti, Olivier, 2009. "The sterling trap: foreign reserves management at the Bank of France, 1928–1936," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 13(03), pages 349-376, December.
  2. Michael D. Bordo & Anna J. Schwartz, 1984. "A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bord84-1, May.
  3. Hugh Rockoff, 1984. "Some Evidence on the Real Price of Gold, Its Costs of Production, and Commodity Prices," NBER Chapters, in: A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931, pages 613-650 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Evans, Martin & Wachtel, Paul, 1993. "Were price changes during the Great Depression anticipated? : Evidence from nominal interest rates," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 3-34, August.
  5. Robert A. Mundell, 2000. "A Reconsideration of the Twentieth Century," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 327-340, June.
  6. Sumner, Scott, 1991. "The Equilibrium Approach to Discretionary Monetary Policy under an International Gold Standard, 1926-1932," The Manchester School of Economic & Social Studies, University of Manchester, vol. 59(4), pages 378-94, December.
  7. Choudhri, Ehsan U & Kochin, Levis A, 1980. "The Exchange Rate and the International Transmission of Business Cycle Disturbances: Some Evidence from the Great Depression," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 12(4), pages 565-74, November.
  8. Peter Temin, 1991. "Lessons from the Great Depression," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262700441, December.
  9. Sicsic, Pierre, 1992. "Was the franc poincare deliberately undervalued?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 69-92, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Richhild Moessner & William A. Allen, 2011. "Las crisis bancarias y el sistema monetario internacional en la Gran Depresión y en la actualidad," Revista de Economía Institucional, Universidad Externado de Colombia - Facultad de Economía, vol. 13(25), pages 43-87, July-Dece.
  2. Crafts, Nicholas; Fearon, Peter, 2010. "Lessons from the 1930s' Great Depression," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 23, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  3. Crafts, Nicholas, 2013. "What Does the 1930s’ Experience Tell Us about the Future of the Eurozone?," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 142, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  4. repec:cge:warwcg:141 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Nicholas Crafts, 2013. "Long-Term Growth in Europe: What Difference does the Crisis Make?," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 224(1), pages R14-R28, May.
  6. Selgin, George & Lastrapes, William D. & White, Lawrence H., 2012. "Has the Fed been a failure?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 569-596.
  7. Bordo, Michael D., 2012. "Could the United States have had a better central bank? An historical counterfactual speculation," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 597-607.

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