The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison

78 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2004  

Ben S. Bernanke

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Harold James

Princeton University - Department of History; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 1990

Abstract

Recent research has provided strong circumstantial evidence for the proposition that sustained deflation -- the result of a mismanaged international gold standard -- was a major cause of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Less clear is the mechanism by which deflation led to depression. In this paper we consider several channels, including effects operating through real wages and through interest rates. Our focus, however, is on the disruptive effect of deflation on the financial system, particularly the banking system. Theory suggests that falling prices, by reducing the net worth of banks and borrowers, can affect flows of credit and thus real activity. Using annual data for twenty-four countries, we confirm that countries which (for historical or institutional reasons) were more vulnerable to severe banking panics also suffered much worse depressions, as did countries which remained on the gold standard. We also find that there may have been a feedback loop through which banking panics, particularly those in the United States, intensified the worldwide deflation.

Suggested Citation

Bernanke, Ben S. and James, Harold, The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison (October 1990). NBER Working Paper No. w3488. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=226690

Ben S. Bernanke (Contact Author)

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

20th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20551
United States

Harold James

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Princeton University - Department of History ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08544
United States

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