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Was the Great Depression a Watershed for American Monetary Policy?

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  • Charles W. Calomiris
  • David C. Wheelock

Abstract

The Great Depression changed the institutions governing monetary policy. These changes included the departure from the gold standard, an opening of a a new avenue for monetizing government debt, changes in the structure of the the Federal Reserve System, and new monetary powers of the Treasury. Ideo- logical changes accompanied institutional changes. We examine whether and how thes changes mattered for post-Depression monetary policy. With regard to the period 1935-1941, the tools of Fed policy, but not its goals or tactics, changed. But structural reforms weakened the Federal Reserve relative to the Treasury, and removed a key limit on the monetization of government debt. The increased power of the Treasury to determine the direction of policy, along with the departure from gold and the new ment debt produced a new (albeit small) inflationary bias in monetary policy that lasted until the Treasury-Fed Accord of 1951. The Fed regained some independence with the Accord of 1951. The Fed returned to its traditional pre-Depression) operating methods, and the procyclical bias in these procedures--along with pressures to monetize government debt--explains how the Fed stumbled into an inflationary policy in the 1960s. Depression-era changes--especially the departure from the gold standard in 1933 and the relaxation of an important constraint on deficit monetization in 1932--made this inflationary policy error possible, and contributed to the persistence of inflationary policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Charles W. Calomiris & David C. Wheelock, 1997. "Was the Great Depression a Watershed for American Monetary Policy?," NBER Working Papers 5963, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5963
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    Cited by:

    1. Calomiris, Charles W. & Mason, Joseph R. & Wheelock, David C., 2011. "Did Doubling Reserve Requirements Cause the Recession of 1937-1938? A Microeconomic Approach," Working Papers 11-03, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, Weiss Center.
    2. Klug, Adam & Landon-Lane, John S. & White, Eugene N., 2005. "How could everyone have been so wrong? Forecasting the Great Depression with the railroads," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 27-55, January.
    3. Sebastian Schich, 2019. "Do Fintech and Cryptocurrency Initiatives Make Banks Less Special?," Business and Economic Research, Macrothink Institute, vol. 9(4), pages 89-116, December.
    4. William Poole & Robert H. Rasche & David C. Wheelock, 2013. "The Great Inflation: Did The Shadow Know Better?," NBER Chapters, in: The Great Inflation: The Rebirth of Modern Central Banking, pages 61-107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Mark A. Carlson & David C. Wheelock, 2012. "The lender of last resort: lessons from the Fed’s first 100 years," Working Papers 2012-056, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
    6. Michael D. Bordo & David C. Wheelock, 2006. "When do stock market booms occur? the macroeconomic and policy environments of 20th century booms," Working Papers 2006-051, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
    7. Hugh Rockoff, 1999. "How Long Did It Take the United States to Become an Optimal Currency Area?," Departmental Working Papers 199910, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
    8. Edwards, Sebastian, 2020. "Change of monetary regime, contracts, and prices: Lessons from the great depression, 1932–1935," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 108(C).
    9. Rik Hafer, 1999. "Against the tide: Malcolm Bryan and the introduction of monetary aggregate targets," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, vol. 84(Q1), pages 20-37.
    10. Michael D. Bordo & Michael J. Dueker & David C. Wheelock, 2002. "Aggregate Price Shocks and Financial Instability: A Historical Analysis," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 40(4), pages 521-538, October.
    11. Hugh Rockoff, 2003. "Deflation, Silent Runs, and Bank Holidays, in the Great Contraction," NBER Working Papers 9522, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Matias Vernengo, 2006. "A Hands-off Central Banker? Marriner S. Eccles and the Federal Reserve Policy, 1934-1951," Working Paper Series, Department of Economics, University of Utah 2006_04, University of Utah, Department of Economics.
    13. Kandil, Magda, 2005. "Money, interest, and prices: Some international evidence," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 14(2), pages 129-147.
    14. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2002. "A Rehabilitation of Monetary Policy in the 1950's," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 121-127, May.
    15. Michael Bordo, 2000. "Sound Money and Sound Financial Policy," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 18(2), pages 129-155, December.
    16. Charles Calomiris & Joseph R. Mason, 2003. "How to Restructure Failed Banking Systems: Lessons from the U.S. in the 1930's and Japan in the 1990's," NBER Working Papers 9624, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. David C. Wheelock, 2002. "Conducting monetary policy without government debt: the Fed's early years," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, vol. 84(May), pages 1-14.
    18. Michael D. Bordo & David C. Wheelock, 2007. "Stock market booms and monetary policy in the twentieth century," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, vol. 89(Mar), pages 91-122.
    19. Barry Eichengreen, 2002. "Still Fettered After All These Years," NBER Working Papers 9276, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E42 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Monetary Sytsems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System
    • E50 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - General

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