It’s now over twenty years since my old UCLA buddy (and student of Earl Thompson) Ron Batchelder and I started writing our paper on Ralph Hawtrey and Gustav Cassel entitled “Pre-Keynesian Monetary Theories of the Great Depression: Whatever Happened to Hawtrey and Cassel?” I presented it many years ago at the annual meeting of the History of Economics Society and Ron has presented it over the years at a number of academic workshops. Almost everyone who has commented on it has really liked it. Scott Sumner plugged it on his blog two years ago. Scott’s own very important work on the Great Depression has been a great inspiration for me to continue working on the paper. Doug Irwin has also written an outstanding paper on Gustav Cassel and his early anticipation of the deflationary threat that eventually turned into the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, Ron and I have still not done that last revision to make it the almost-perfect paper that we want it to be. But I have finally made another set of revisions, and I am turning the paper back to Ron for his revisions before we submit it to a journal for publication. In the meantime, I thought that we should make an up-to-date version of the paper available on SSRN as the current version (UCLA working paper #626) on the web dates back to (yikes!) 1991.
Here’s the abstract.
A strictly monetary theory of the Great Depression is generally thought to have originated with Milton Friedman. Designed to counter the Keynesian notion that the Great Depression resulted from instabilities inherent in modern capitalist economies, Friedman’s explanation identified the culprit as an inept Federal Reserve Board. More recent work on the Great Depression suggests that the causes of the Great Depression, rooted in the attempt to restore an international gold standard that had been suspended after World War I started, were more international in scope than Friedman believed. We document that current views about the causes of the Great Depression were anticipated in the 1920s by Ralph Hawtrey and Gustav Cassel who warned that restoring the gold standard risked causing a disastrous deflation unless an increasing international demand for gold could be kept within strict limits. Although their early warnings of potential disaster were validated, and their policy advice after the Depression started was consistently correct, their contributions were later ignored and forgotten. We offer some possible reasons for the remarkable disregard by later economists of the Hawtrey-Cassel monetary explanation of the Great Depression.