Is Another Depression Possible?: A Comparison of “The Great Depression” and “The Great Recession”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011
By Paul Martin

by Devon DB
Global Research
September 28, 2011

In 2007, the world became engulfed in the largest economic slump since the Great Depression. The crisis was so damaging it was coined “the Great Recession” and there was much comparison of the recession to the Great Depression of the 1930s in the mainstream media. However, what many failed to do was an in-depth analysis of both the Great Depression and the Great Recession, to compare and contrast to two. Thus, this article will be a comparison of both economic downfalls, ending in an analysis of the current economic situation America finds itself in and asking the question if another Great Depression is possible.

The decade prior to the 1930s, the US was in a time of great economic boom known as “The Roaring Twenties.” Yet while the nation’s income rose about 20% (from $74.3 billion in 1923 to $89 billion in 1929), the majority of this wealth went to the richest as can be seen by the fact that “in 1929 the top 0.1% of Americans had a combined income equal to the bottom 42%” [1] and that the disposable income per capita rose 9% from 1920 to 1929, while the top 1% enjoyed a massive 75% increase in per capita disposable income. This greatly increased wealth disparity and led to a imbalance in the US economy where demand wasn’t equal to supply and thus there was an oversupply of goods as “those [the poor and the middle class] whose needs were not satiated could not afford more, whereas the wealthy were satiated by spending only a small portion of their income,” [2] which caused the US to become reliant on three things to keep the economy afloat: credit sales, luxury spending, and investment by the rich. However, the major flaw of an economy based on credit sales, luxury spending, and investments was that all three of those activities depended upon people’s confidence in the economy. If confidence were to lower, then those activities would come to a halt and with it the US economy.

The massive inequality in wealth was not solely in terms of socioeconomic status, but also extended to corporations as well. During the first World War, the federal government subsidized farms in earnest as they wanted to feed not only Americans, but also Europeans. However, once the war ended, so did subsidies for farms. The government began to support the automobile and radio industries, with help from then-President Calvin Coolidge in the form of pressuring the Federal Reserve to keep easy credit, as to allow for both industries to easily be heavily invested in.

In the 1920s, the profits of the automobile and its connected industries such as lead, nickel, and steel skyrocketed, so much so, that by 1929 “a mere 200 corporations controlled approximately half of all corporate wealth.” [3] The automobile boom also led to the creation of hotels and motels which in turn led “Americans spent more than a $1 billion each year on the construction and maintenance of highways, and at least another $400 million annually for city streets” [4] in the 1920s. In addition to the massive success of the automobile industry, the radio industry also preformed exceptionally well as “Radio stations, electronic stores, and electricity companies all needed the radio to survive, and relied upon the constant growth of the radio market to expand and grow themselves.” [5]

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