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Capitalizing Patriotism: The Liberty Loans of World War I


  • Sung Won Kang
  • Hugh Rockoff


In World War I the Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, hoped to create a broad market for government bonds, the famous Liberty Loans, by following an aggressive policy of "capitalizing patriotism." He called on everyone from Wall Street bankers to the Boy Scouts to volunteer for the campaigns to sell the bonds. He helped recruit the nation's best known artists to draw posters depicting the contribution to the war effort to be made by buying bonds, and he organized giant bond rallies featuring Hollywood stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin. These efforts, however, enjoyed little success. The yields on the Liberty bonds were kept low mainly by making the bonds tax exempt and by making sure that a large proportion of them was purchased directly or indirectly by the Federal Reserve. Patriotism proved to be a weak offset to normal market forces.

Suggested Citation

  • Sung Won Kang & Hugh Rockoff, 2006. "Capitalizing Patriotism: The Liberty Loans of World War I," NBER Working Papers 11919, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11919
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. McCloskey, Deirdre N., 1998. "Bourgeois Virtue and the History of P and S," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 297-317, June.
    2. Klein, Benjamin, 1974. "Competitive Interest Payments on Bank Deposits and the Long-Run Demand for Money," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(6), pages 931-949, December.
    3. Evans, Paul, 1985. "Do Large Deficits Produce High Interest Rates?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 68-87, March.
    4. Balke, Nathan S & Gordon, Robert J, 1989. "The Estimation of Prewar Gross National Product: Methodology and New Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(1), pages 38-92, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hugh Rockoff, 2015. "War and Inflation in the United States from the Revolution to the First Iraq War," NBER Working Papers 21221, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Joel Slemrod, 2010. "Old George Orwell Got It Backward: Some Thoughts on Behavioral Tax Economics," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 66(1), pages 15-33, March.
    3. Butkiewicz, James L. & Solcan, Mihaela, 2016. "The original Operation Twist: the War Finance Corporation's war bond purchases, 1918–1920," Financial History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 23(01), pages 21-46, April.
    4. Joel Slemrod, 2007. "Cheating Ourselves: The Economics of Tax Evasion," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 25-48, Winter.

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    JEL classification:

    • N2 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions

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