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Wilson hoped to deploy this emerging super-power to enforce an enduring peace. His own mistakes and those of his successors doomed the project, setting in motion the disastrous events that would lead to the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and a second and even more awful world war. What went wrong? But what was no less obvious was that only the US could anchor such a new order. Periodically, attempts have been made to rehabilitate the American leaders of the s.
He believes in thrift, balanced budgets, and the gold standard; he abhors government debt and Keynesian economics. The Forgotten Depression is a polemic embedded within a narrative, an argument against the Obama stimulus joined to an account of the depression of As Grant correctly observes, that depression was one of the sharpest and most painful in American history. Total industrial production may have dropped by 30 percent. Overall, prices plummeted at the steepest rate ever recorded—steeper than in Then, after 18 months of extremely hard times, the economy lurched into recovery.
How War Amplified Federal Power in the Twentieth Century - Foundation for Economic Education
By , the U. Grant presents this story as a laissez-faire triumph.
Wartime inflation was halted. Borrowing and spending gave way to saving and investing. Recovery then occurred naturally, without any need for government stimulus. They channel investment, saving and work. High prices encourage production but discourage consumption; low prices do the opposite.
The depression of was marked by plunging prices, the malignity we call deflation. But prices and wages fell only so far. They stopped falling when they become low enough to entice consumers into shopping, investors into committing capital and employers into hiring. Through the agency of falling prices and wages, the American economy righted itself.
Grant tells the story with more verve and wit than most, and with a better eye for incident and character. After World War II, Europe recovered largely as a result of American aid; the nation that had suffered least from the war contributed most to reconstruction. But after World War I, the money flowed the other way. Take the case of France, which suffered more in material terms than any World War I belligerent except Belgium. Millions of men in their prime were dead or crippled.
On top of everything, the country was deeply in debt, owing billions to the United States and billions more to Britain. France had been a lender during the conflict too, but most of its credits had been extended to Russia, which repudiated all its foreign debts after the Revolution of The French solution was to exact reparations from Germany. Britain was willing to relax its demands on France. But it owed the United States even more than France did. Unless it collected from France—and from Italy and all the other smaller combatants as well—it could not hope to pay its American debts.
Americans, meanwhile, were preoccupied with the problem of German recovery. How could Germany achieve political stability if it had to pay so much to France and Belgium?
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The Americans pressed the French to relent when it came to Germany, but insisted that their own claims be paid in full by both France and Britain. The depression of killed those export hopes. Most immediately, the economic crisis sliced American consumer demand precisely when Europe needed it most. True, World War I was not nearly as positive an experience for working Americans as World War II would be; between and , for example, wages lagged behind prices. Still, millions of Americans had bought billions of dollars of small-denomination Liberty bonds.
They had accumulated savings that could have been spent on imported products. Instead, many used their savings for food, rent, and mortgage interest during the hard times of But the gravest harm done by the depression to postwar recovery lasted long past To appreciate that, you have to understand the reasons why U. Grant rightly points out that wars are usually followed by economic downturns. Such a downturn occurred in late early Even this understates the shock, because it counts only Army contracts, not Navy ones.
The postwar recession checked wartime inflation, and by March , the U. Monetary authorities, worried that inflation would revive and accelerate, made the fateful decision to slam the credit brakes, hard. Unlike the recession, that of was deliberately engineered. There was nothing invisible about it.
But was an inflation-stopper with a difference. In , monetary authorities actually sought to drive prices back to their pre-war levels. They did not wholly succeed, but they succeeded well enough.
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One price especially concerned them: In , a dollar bought a little less than one-twentieth of an ounce of gold; by , it comfortably did so again. James Grant hails this accomplishment. Adam Tooze forces us to reckon with its consequences for the rest of the planet. Every other World War I belligerent had quit the gold standard at the beginning of the war.
As part of their war finance, they accepted that their currency would depreciate against gold. The currencies of the losers depreciated much more than the winners; among the winners, the currency of Italy depreciated more than that of France, and France more than that of Britain.