Day By Day

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Megan McArdle on Ending the New Deal

Megan McArdle writes on the current debate on what ended the Great Depression.

Here's my position on what ended the Great Depression: I don't know. There are a whole lot of theories out there, but with an "n" of 1, no overwhelming evidence in favor of any of them. There are a few that I think most economists agree are not true, like that the spending portion of the New Deal ended the Great Depression through the magic of fiscal stimulus; a few percent of GDP in stimulus are not, at any reasonable multiplier, enough to produce high single-digit economic growth, which is why economists from Friedman to Tobin generally concluded that the decisive moment was either the monetary expansion of the late 1930s, while others credit the massive fiscal stimulus of World War II. But which of those two theories is correct? No idea. The stimulus story and the monetary story both track the time frame reasonably well, and much depends on a counterfactual we can't test about what would have happened if America hadn't gotten into the war in 1941.

I also think it's possible that nothing the government did ended the Great Depression. It may be that, like Topsy, it "just growed".
Read it here.

To this I would add two factors: The draft solved the unemployment problem, creating a labor shortage that drew women and minorities into the mainstream workforce; the war itself created a huge foreign demand for American products, one that only grew larger over time as our major industrial competitors bombed each other to smithereens.