FRB head Marriner Eccles on the Great Depression

Marriner Eccles on unequal wealth distribution as a cause of the Great Depression:

“”As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption;mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth — not of existing wealth, but of wealth as it is currently produced — to provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation’s economic machinery. Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth. This served themas capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied to themselves the kind of effective demand for their products that would justify a reinvestment of their capital accumulations in new plants. In consequence, as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands,the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped.

That is what happened to us in the twenties. We sustained high levels of employment in that period with the aid of an exceptional expansion of debt outside of the banking system. This debt was provided by the large growth of business savings as well as savings by individuals, particularly in the upper-income groups where taxes were relatively low. Private debt outside of the banking system increased about fifty per cent. This debt, which was at high interest rates,largely took the form of mortgage debt on housing, office, and hotel structures, consumer installment debt, brokers’ loans and foreign debt.

The stimulation to spending by debt-creation of this sort was short lived and could not be counted on to sustain high levels of employment for long periods of time. Had there been a better distribution of the current income from the national product — in other words, had there been less savings by business and the higher-income groups and more income in the lower groups — we should have had far greater stability in our economy. Had the six billion dollars, for instance, that were loaned by corporations and wealthy individuals for stock-market speculation been distributed to the public as lower prices or higher wages and with less profits to the corporations and the well-to-do, it would have prevented or greatly moderated the economic collapse that began at the end of 1929.”

Source: Beckoning frontiers: Public and personal recollections

A compelling argument, I think. The parallel in terms of shadow credit systems being created in the 1920’s and in the last decade is clear.

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