GtDep/ItHadToHappen2 jw May 2009 the great deflation of 1929-33 (almost) had to happen 1

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1 This paper was stimulated by Johnson (1995, 1997), who was stimulated by Mundell (1993), both of whom called attention to the inflation of paper currencies in the 1920s relative to their prewar gold parities. I am grateful for helpful comments by Dan Hammond, Gerry O’Driscoll, and the participants of a seminar at the American Institute for Economic Research.

2 These episodes are compared in Wood (2000; 2005 ch. 2, 3, 6, 8, 10 ). The wholesale prices in Figure 1 are similar to other price series. For example the historical CPI of the BLS reported in Carter (2006) was 13 in 1812, 18 in 1814, and 13 in 1819; 9 in 1861, 16 in 1865, and 10 in 1879; 10 in 1913, 20 in 1920, and 13 in 1933.


 Real effects of sticky wages and prices, market wedges, productivity shocks, and credit interruptions are considered by Cole and Ohanian 1999; Kehoe and Prescott 2002; Christiano, Motto, and Rostagno 2003; Bernanke and Carey 1986; Bordo, Erceg, and Evans 2000; Chari, Kehoe, and McGratton 2002; and Bernanke 1983. Keynes (1930a, p. 128) attributed the great falls in output to the unwillingness of business to invest in a deflationary environment, an argument developed in 1936 (p. 143). Fisher (1933) focusd on the increased burden of debt due to deflation.

4 Chaired by Lord Cunliffe, governor of the Bank of England (Gregory, 1929 ii, 361).

5 Exceptions included Rist (1931) and Edie (1929).

6 v did not rise during the Civil War as much as the other occasions because the suspension was limited to the U.S. and a free market in gold allowed Pg to rise.

7 Keynes may have overlooked the reserve role of coin discussed above.

8 The exchange rate ratios are Switzerland (0.774), Netherlands (0.776), Canada (1.09), U.K. (1.149), S. Africa (1.176), Sweden (1.177), Norway (1.206), Denmark (1.403), N. Zealand (1.431), Australia (1.444), Spain (1.776), Japan (1.98), Italy (2.836), France (4.949), Belgium (5.361). Omissions are due to the lack of data or substantial currency reforms (such as in Germany) making data incomparable.

9 “The increase in the world’s monetary stock of gold after 1914 did not keep pace with the increase in the total volume of fictitious capital” (Einzig 1935, p. 142).


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