A Photo Essay on the Great Depression - University of …

The rise of Donald Trump began a debate about the proper place of nationalism in American politics

The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, distinctly risky if you’re a nutritionist and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or journalist. (Or, for that matter, an eater. Who wants to hear, yet again, ”Eat more fruits and vegetables”?) And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition — much to the advantage of everybody involved. Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters.

Admittedly, the New Deal was highly successful in achievingthe limited goal of providing immediate relief to millions of hungry, homeless,and jobless Americans. The Federal Emergency Relief Act, forexample, earmarked about half a billion dollars to distribute to stateson the verge of bankruptcy and directly to Americans who neededgovernment handouts the most. The Public Works Administration, WorksProgress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and CivilWorks Administration also provided invaluable employment to millionsof young men during the depression. Most of Roosevelt’s new alphabetagencies, however, were just quick fixes to remedy the most visibleeffects of the Great Depression without doing anything to solvethe problems that had caused the economic collapse in the firstplace.

Even though the First New Deal (–)and the Second New Deal (–) wereboth part of Roosevelt’s plan to reinvigorate the economy with Keynesian-stylefederal deficit spending, the two bundles of legislation were inmany ways quite different. First New Deal legislation, for example,was passed primarily in order to provide immediate relief to thebankrupt states and directly to the people. On the other hand, muchof the Second New Deal legislation was meant to reform the economyand prevent future depressions. As a result, the First New Dealhad the more immediate effect on the U.S. economy, but the SecondNew Deal had much greater significance after the Great Depression.

And now it is a nation that wants some things very much

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Hall and Ferguson also write that:

But a further irony is the fact that the very existence of the Federal Reserve caused banks to wait for the central bank to act and not turn to the solutions they had devised in the face of the banking crises of the nineteenth century.
But even with all that bungling, it is not clear that we can lay responsibility for the Great Depression atthe feet of the Fed. "Malinvestment" is a term coined by the Austrian school of economics to sum up their explanation of the causes of business cycles. According to this theory, all business cycles are caused by government intervention in the market. Specifically, thecentral bank (the Fed in the case of the U.S.) artificially lowers the interestrate, flooding the economy with money. This money is then investedin capital goods that would not be justified at a market level of interestrates. The low interest rate cannot be sustained forever without anincrease in inflation, so the Fed inevitably has to raise interest rates. When this happens, the investments that were "justified" under a lower interest rate must be liquidated. Any prevention of this liquidation by further government intervention will simply prolong the re-adjustment and thus exacerbate the recovery. This view is held by very few economists. Prices and wages change inaccordance to the scarcity of goods and labor relative to the amount ofmoney that is available to buy them. For example, if the Federal ReserveBoardincreases the nation's money supply, then prices and wages will tendtogo up, reflecting the fact that more money is chasing the same amountof goods and labor. When the Fed does too much of this, it is calledinflation. But what happens if the money supply goes down relativeto the amount of goods and labor? Eventually, the price of goods andlabor will go down as well in the long run. But in the short run,prices and wages can "stick" at a higher level than the market clearing priceor wage. When this happens, people buy less and employers hire less,thus causing cut backs in production and employment. There are a numberof reasons why prices and wages might stick. One reason is referredto as "menu costs," meaning that it often costs money to change a price. A good example is a restaurant that has to print new menus every time theprices change. In (1980), by Jeffrey G. Williamson and Peter H. Lindert, it is reported that the period of 1928 through the first three quarters of 1929, using any number of income inequality measures, the U.S. may have experienced "the highest income inequalities in American History" .

In , Hall & Ferguson write that:

Wages grew more slowly than output per worker, which suggests that corporate profits were rising. This change shows up as rising dividends, which constituted 4.3 percent of national income in 1920 and rose to 7.2 percent of national income by 1929 (Soule 1947, 284). Since 82 percent of all dividends were paid to the top 5 percent of income earners, this clearly helped contribute to the change in income inequality (Potter 1974).
and:
But critics of that view contend that increase inequality of income and wealth is an unlikely candidate to cause an economic decline on the order of the Great Depression. Their criticism of the underconsumptionist view is that it ignores an obvious adjustment mechanism; if deficient demand for goods and services is caused by unequal distribution of income, then the price level would fall to cause the quantity of goods and services demanded to rise. Underconsumptionists respond that prices could not fall because of various rigidities built into the economic system (see, for example, Strikcer 1983-84).
However, as economist Randall E. Parker's , a collection of interviews of economists who lived through the Great Depression:
A number of myths that are popular in conventional histories of the Depression are punctured in Parker's book. For example, the , "A fundamental misdistribution of purchasing power, the greatly unequal distribution of wealth throughout the 1920s, was a factor contributing to the depression." None of the economists interviewed by Parker cites this so-called causal factor.

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