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The Missing Transmission Mechanism in the Monetary Explanation of the Great Depression

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  • Christina D. Romer
  • David H. Romer

Abstract

This paper examines an important gap in the monetary explanation of the Great Depression: the lack of a well-articulated and documented transmission mechanism of monetary shocks to the real economy. It begins by reviewing the challenge to Friedman and Schwartz's monetary explanation provided by the decline in nominal interest rates in the early 1930s. We show that the monetary explanation requires not just that there were expectations of deflation, but that those expectations were the result of monetary contraction. Using a detailed analysis of Business Week magazine, we find evidence that monetary contraction and Federal Reserve policy contributed to expectations of deflation during the central years of the downturn. This suggests that monetary shocks may have depressed spending and output in part by raising real interest rates.

Suggested Citation

  • Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2013. "The Missing Transmission Mechanism in the Monetary Explanation of the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 18746, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18746
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Christina D. Romer, 1990. "The Great Crash and the Onset of the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(3), pages 597-624.
    2. Martha L. Olney, 1999. "Avoiding Default: The Role of Credit in the Consumption Collapse of 1930," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 319-335.
    3. Milton Friedman & Anna J. Schwartz, 1963. "A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie63-1, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Martin Ellison & Sang Seok Lee & Kevin Hjortshøj O'Rourke, 2020. "The Ends of 30 Big Depressions," NBER Working Papers 27586, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Francesco D’Acunto & Daniel Hoang & Michael Weber, 2020. "Managing Households' Expectations with Unconventional Policies," NBER Working Papers 27399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Francesco D'Acunto & Daniel Hoang & Michael Weber & Michael Weber, 2016. "Unconventional Fiscal Policy, Inflation Expectations, and Consumption Expenditure," CESifo Working Paper Series 5793, CESifo.
    4. Francesco D’Acunto & Daniel Hoang & Michael Weber, 2017. "The Effect of Unconventional Fiscal Policy on Consumption Expenditure," ifo DICE Report, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 15(01), pages 09-11, April.
    5. Francesco D'Acunto & Daniel Hoang & Michael Weber & Michael Weber, 2019. "Managing Households' Expectations with Salient Economic Policies," CESifo Working Paper Series 7793, CESifo.
    6. Binder, Carola Conces, 2016. "Estimation of historical inflation expectations," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 1-31.
    7. Gabriel Mathy & Herman Stekler, 2018. "Was the deflation of the depression anticipated? An inference using real-time data," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(2), pages 117-125, April.
    8. Mathy, Gabriel & Stekler, Herman, 2017. "Expectations and forecasting during the Great Depression: Real-time evidence from the business press," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 1-15.
    9. Jalil, Andrew J. & Rua, Gisela, 2016. "Inflation expectations and recovery in spring 1933," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 26-50.
    10. Daniel, Volker & Steege, Lucas ter, 2020. "Inflation expectations and the recovery from the Great Depression in Germany," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 75(C).
    11. Taylor, Jason E. & Neumann, Todd C., 2016. "Recovery Spring, Faltering Fall: March to November 1933," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 54-67.
    12. Breitenlechner, Max & Mathy, Gabriel P. & Scharler, Johann, 2021. "Decomposing the U.S. Great Depression: How important were loan supply shocks?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).
    13. Michael Weber & Daniel Hoang & Francesco D'Acunto, 2015. "Inflation Expectations and Consumption Expenditure," 2015 Meeting Papers 1266, Society for Economic Dynamics.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies
    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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