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The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison

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  • Ben Bernanke
  • Harold James

Abstract

Recent research has provided strong circumstantial evidence for the proposition that sustained deflation -- the result of a mismanaged international gold standard -- was a major cause of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Less clear is the mechanism by which deflation led to depression. In this paper we consider several channels, including effects operating through real wages and through interest rates. Our focus, however, is on the disruptive effect of deflation on the financial system, particularly the banking system. Theory suggests that falling prices, by reducing the net worth of banks and borrowers, can affect flows of credit and thus real activity. Using annual data for twenty-four countries, we confirm that countries which (for historical or institutional reasons) were more vulnerable to severe banking panics also suffered much worse depressions, as did countries which remained on the gold standard. We also find that there may have been a feedback loop through which banking panics, particularly those in the United States, intensified the worldwide deflation.

Suggested Citation

  • Ben Bernanke & Harold James, 1990. "The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison," NBER Working Papers 3488, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3488 Note: EFG ME
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ben Bernanke & Mark Gertler, 1990. "Financial Fragility and Economic Performance," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(1), pages 87-114.
    2. Michael D. Bordo & Finn E. Kydland, 1990. "The Gold Standard as a Rule," NBER Working Papers 3367, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Eichengreen, Barry & Sachs, Jeffrey, 1985. "Exchange Rates and Economic Recovery in the 1930s," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 45(04), pages 925-946, December.
    4. Bernanke, Ben S, 1983. "Nonmonetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in Propagation of the Great Depression," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 257-276, June.
    5. Eichengreen, Barry & Hatton, Tim, 1988. "Interwar Unemployment in International Perspective," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt7bw188gk, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    6. Robert P. Flood & Peter M. Garber, 1981. "A Systematic Banking Collapse in a Perfect Foresight World," NBER Working Papers 0691, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Anthony Patrick O'Brien, 1989. "A Behavioral Explanation for Nominal Wage Rigidity During the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(4), pages 719-735.
    8. Hamilton, James D., 1987. "Monetary factors in the great depression," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 145-169, March.
    9. James D. Hamilton, 1988. "Role Of The International Gold Standard In Propagating The Great Depression," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 6(2), pages 67-89, April.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Why a gold standard is a very bad idea
      by Steve Cecchetti and Kim Schoenholtz in Money, Banking and Financial Markets on 2016-12-19 19:51:14

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Vasilev, Aleksandar, 2009. "Business cycles in Bulgaria and the Baltic countries: an RBC approach," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 148-170.
    2. Dreger, Christian, 2010. "Does the Nominal Exchange Rate Regime Affect the Real Interest Parity Condition?," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 274-285.
    3. Bordo, Michael D. & Schwartz, Anna J., 2000. "Measuring real economic effects of bailouts: historical perspectives on how countries in financial distress have fared with and without bailouts," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, pages 81-167.
    4. Hoggarth, Glenn & Reis, Ricardo & Saporta, Victoria, 2002. "Costs of banking system instability: Some empirical evidence," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 26(5), pages 825-855, May.
    5. Eichengreen, Barry, 1990. "Relaxing the External Constraint: europe in the 1930s," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt45x5d198, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
    6. Paolera, Gerardo Della & Taylor, Alan M., 1999. "Economic Recovery from the Argentine Great Depression: Institutions, Expectations, and the Change of Macroeconomic Regime," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(03), pages 567-599, September.
    7. Anil K. Kashyap & Jeremy C. Stein, 1994. "Monetary Policy and Bank Lending," NBER Chapters,in: Monetary Policy, pages 221-261 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Bordo, Michael D. & Schwartz, Anna J., 2000. "Measuring real economic effects of bailouts: historical perspectives on how countries in financial distress have fared with and without bailouts," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, pages 81-167.
    9. Barry Eichengreen and Carlos Arteta., 2000. "Banking Crises in Emerging Markets: Presumptions and Evidence," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C00-115, University of California at Berkeley.
    10. Keating, John W. & Valcarcel, Victor J., 2017. "What's so great about the Great Moderation?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, pages 115-142.
    11. Ben S. Bernanke & Kevin Carey, 1996. "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 5439, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Matthew Wright, 2009. "Mordacious years’: socio-economic aspects and outcomes of New Zealand’s experience in the Great Depression," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Bulletin, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, vol. 72, pages 43-61, September.
    13. Reinhart, Carmen M. & Rogoff, Kenneth S., 2013. "Banking crises: An equal opportunity menace," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(11), pages 4557-4573.
    14. Shachmurove, Tomer & Shachmurove, Yochanan, 2011. "String of defaults: Spanish financial crises through the years," MPRA Paper 36012, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. DELOOF, Marc & VERMOESEN, Veronique, 2011. "The value of bank relationships: Evidence from Belgium at the start of the Great Depression," Working Papers 2011021, University of Antwerp, Faculty of Applied Economics.
    16. repec:wsi:acsxxx:v:15:y:2012:i:supp0:n:s0219525912500750 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Doepke, Matthias & Schneider, Martin, 2005. "Real Effects of Inflation Through the Redistribution of Nominal Wealth," CEPR Discussion Papers 5167, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    18. Tomer Shachmurove & Yochanan Shachmurove, 2011. "Boom and Bust of the spanish Economy," PIER Working Paper Archive 11-011, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
    19. Shachmurove, Yochanan, 2011. "A historical overview of financial crises in the United States," Global Finance Journal, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 217-231.
    20. Kiyutsevskaya, Anna & Narkevich, Sergei & Trunin, Pavel, 2016. "The Transformation of the Role and Tasks of the Central Bank (Monetary Authorities) in the Modern Economy," Working Papers 2136, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    21. Harold L. Cole & Lee E. Ohanian & Ron Leung, 2005. "Deflation and the international Great Depression: a productivity puzzle," Staff Report 356, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

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