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Bank Distress during the Great Depression: The Illiquidity-Insolvency Debate Revisited

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  • Gary Richardson

Abstract

During the contraction from 1929 through 1933, the Federal Reserve System tracked changes in the status of all banks operating in the United States and determined the cause of each bank suspension. This essay analyzes chronological patterns in aggregate series constructed from that data. The analysis demonstrates both illiquidity and insolvency were substantial sources of bank distress. Periods of heightened distress were correlated with periods of increased illiquidity. Contagion via correspondent networks and bank runs propagated the initial banking panics. As the depression deepened and asset values declined, insolvency loomed as the principal threat to depository institutions.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary Richardson, 2006. "Bank Distress during the Great Depression: The Illiquidity-Insolvency Debate Revisited," NBER Working Papers 12717, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12717
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Lucia, Joseph L., 1985. "The failure of the bank of United States: A reappraisal," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 402-416, October.
    2. Christina D. Romer, 1993. "The Nation in Depression," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 19-39, Spring.
    3. Richardson, Gary, 2006. "Records of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Record Group 82 at the National Archives of the United States," Financial History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 13(01), pages 123-134, April.
    4. Meltzer, Allan H., 1976. "Monetary and other explanations of the start of the great depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 455-471, November.
    5. Kris James Mitchener, 2004. "Bank Supervision, Regulation, and Instability During the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 10475, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mark A. Carlson, 2008. "Alternatives for distressed banks and the panics of the Great Depression," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-07, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E0 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General
    • E42 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Monetary Sytsems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System
    • E44 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Financial Markets and the Macroeconomy
    • E65 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Studies of Particular Policy Episodes
    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N2 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions

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