The Great Depression: Crash Course US History #33


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course
U.S. history and Herbert Hoover’s here, which is never a good sign. Today we’re gonna return to two of my favorite topics: economics and inaccurate naming conventions. That’s right, we’re gonna be talking about the Great Depression, which was only great
if you enjoy, like, being a hobo or selling pencils. Now some of you might get a bit frustrated today because there’s no real consensus
about the Great Depression, and simple, declarative statements about it really say much more about
you than they do about history. Why are you looking at me, Mr Green? I didn’t
say anything. I thought it. Because, Me From the Past, you always want
things to fit into this simplistic narrative: she loves me, she loves me not, the Great
Depression was caused by x or was caused by y. It’s complicated! (Intro Music) Many people tell you that the Great Depression
started with the stock market crash in October 1929, but a) that isn’t true and b) it leads
people to mistake correlation with cause. What we think of as the Great Depression did
begin AFTER the stock market crash, but not because of it.
Like, as we saw last week, the underlying economic conditions in the U.S. before the
stock market crash weren’t all moonshine and rainbows. The 1920s featured large-scale
domestic consumption of relatively new consumer products, which was good for American industry.
But much of this consumption was fueled by credit and installment buying which, it turned
out, was totally unsustainable. The thing about credit is that it works fine
unless and until economic uncertainty increases at which point POW. That’s a technical historian
term, by the way. Meanwhile the agricultural sector suffered
throughout the 1920s and farm prices kept dropping for two reasons. First, American
farms had expanded enormously during World War I to provide food for all those soldiers,
and second, the expansion led many farmers to mechanize their operations.
As you’ll know if you’ve ever bought a tractor, that mechanization was expensive,
and so many farmers went into debt to finance their expansion. And then a combination of
overproduction and low prices meant that often their farms were foreclosed upon .
And other signs of economic weakness appeared throughout the decade. Like by 1925, the growth
of car manufacturing slowed, along with residential construction.
And, worst of all was what noted left wing radical Herbert Hoover labeled “an orgy
of mad speculation” in the stock markets that began in 1927. By the way I’m kidding
about him being a left wing radical. Just look at him.
According to historian David Kennedy, “By 1929, commercial bankers were in the unusual
position of loaning more money for stock market and real estate investments than for commercial
ventures.”[1] I wonder if we would ever find ourselves in
that position again. Oh right we did in 2008. Anyway, it’s tempting to see the stock market
crash as the cause of the depression, possibly because it turns American economic history
into morality play, but the truth is that the stock market crash and the depression
were not the same thing. A lot of rich people lost money in the market, but what made the
Great Depression the Great Depression was massive unemployment and accompanying hardship,
and this didn’t actually begin until, like, 1930 or 1931.
The end of 1929 was actually okay. Unless you were a farmer. Or a stockbroker obviously.
So what did actually cause the Depression? Well that’s a big question and it’s one
that economists have struggled with ever since. They want to find out so they can keep it
from ever happening again. No pressure, economists. Only 3% of Americans actually owned stock,
and the markets recovered a lot of their value by 1930, although they did then go down again
because, you know, there was a depression on.
And even though big banks and corporations were buying a lot of stock, much of it was
with borrowed money, known as margin buying, and all of that still was not nearly a big
enough iceberg to sink the world’s economy. But if I had to name a single cause of the
Great Depression, it might be America’s weak banking system. Alright. Let’s go to
the ThoughtBubble. Although the Federal Reserve system had been
created in 1913, the vast majority of America’s banks were small, individual institutions
that had to rely on their own resources. When there was a panic and depositors rushed to
take the money out of the bank — like they do in the obscure arthouse movie Mary Poppins
— the bank went under if it didn’t have enough money on reserve.
So in 1930, a wave of bank failures began in Louisville that then spread to Indiana,
Illinois, Missouri, and eventually Arkansas and North Carolina. As depositors lined up
to take their money out before the banks went belly up, banks called in loans and sold assets.
Ultimately this meant that credit froze up, which was what really destroyed the economy.
A frozen credit system meant that less money was in circulation, and that led to deflation.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Big deal, deflation, can’t be as bad as inflation
right?” No. Deflation is much worse, as anyone who has ever slept on an air mattress
knows. When prices drop, businesses cut costs, mainly
by laying off workers. These workers then can’t buy anything so inventories continue
to build up and prices drop further. Banks weren’t lending money, so employers couldn’t
borrow it to make payroll to pay their workers and more and more businesses went bankrupt
leaving more and more workers unable to purchase the goods and services that would keep the
businesses open. So if we have to lay the blame for the Great
Depression on someone we can blame the banks, which isn’t completely wrong, and it gives
us a chance to shake our fists at Andrew Jackson whose distrust of central banking got us into
this mess in the first place. That’s probably too simple, but the Federal Reserve does deserve
a good chunk of the blame for not rescuing the banks and not infusing money into the
economy to combat this deflationary cycle. Thanks, Thoughtbubble. So, economics fans
out there might be saying, “Why didn’t the Hoover administration engage in some good
old fashioned Keynesian pump priming?” The thinking there is that if governments
do large-scale economic stimulus and a bunch of infrastructure projects, it can kind of
create a bottom that stops the deflationary cycle.
And that does often work, but unfortunately the Hoover Administration did not have a TARDIS.
John Maynard Keynes’ great work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (he
wasn’t very good at titles) wasn’t published until 1936, when the Depression was well under
way. Venturing into the green nightmare of not-America
for a moment, Herbert Hoover offered a global explanation in his memoirs for the global
phenomenon that was the Great Depression. He claimed that its primary cause was World
War One. And to be fair, the war did set the stage for a global economic disaster because
of the web of debts and reparations that it created.
Like, under the Versailles Treaty, Germany had to pay $33 billion in reparations mostly
to France and Britain, which it couldn’t pay without borrowing money from … American
banks. In addition the U.S. itself was owed $10 billion by Britain and France, some of
which those countries paid back with German reparations.
But then once American credit dried up, as it did in the wake of the stock market crash
and the American bank failures, the economies of Germany, France, and Britain also fell
off a cliff. And then with the largest non-U.S. industrial
economies in total turmoil, fewer people abroad could buy American products, or French wine,
or Brazilian coffee, and world trade came to a halt.
And then when what the world really needed was more trade, America responded by raising
tariffs to their highest levels ever with the Hawley Smoot tariff, a law that was as
bad as it sounds. The idea of the high tariff was to protect
American industry, but since Europe responded with their own high tariffs, that just meant
that there were fewer buyers for American goods, less trade, fewer sales, and ultimately
fewer jobs. So what did Hoover do? Not enough. It’s
important to remember that the American government is not just the President. Hoover couldn’t
always get Congress to do what he wanted but his political ineptitude was not particularly
surprising because the first elected office that he ever held in his life was President
of the United States. Like, let’s take the foreign debt issue.
Hoover proposed a moratorium on intergovernmental debt payments and he actually got Congress
to go along with it, but it wasn’t enough, mainly because the central bankers in Europe
and America refused to let go of the gold standard, which would have allowed the governments
to devalue their currency and pump needed money into their economies.
And when Britain, rather heroically I might add, did abandon the gold standard in 1931
and stopped payments in gold, the U.S. did not follow suit, which meant that world financial
markets froze up even further. Like this is a little bit complicated, but
if you and I have always used Cheetos as currency to exchange goods and services and one day
I announce that we can’t do that anymore because it doesn’t give us the flexibility
that we need to pull ourselves out of this deflationary spiral.
If I don’t also agree to abandon Cheetos, then it’s going to be a total disaster,
which it was. And then, even worse, the Fed raised its discount
rate, making credit even harder to come by. By the end of 1931, 2,294 American banks had
failed, double the number that had gone under in 1930.
Now, it’s easy to criticize poor Herbert Hoover for not doing enough to stop the Great
Depression, and he probably didn’t do enough, but part of that is down to our knowledge
of what happened afterward: the New Deal. That FDR at least tried to do something about
the Depression makes us forget that when Hoover was president, orthodox political and economic
theory counseled in favor of doing nothing. And at least Hoover didn’t follow the advice
of his treasury secretary who, according to Hoover anyway, argued that that the solution
was to “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate,”
which sounds like the worst milkshake ever. Instead, Hoover believed that the best course
of action was to “use the powers of government to cushion the situation”[2] and in a White
House meeting he persuaded a large number of industrialists to agree to maintain wage
rates. He also got the Federal Farm Board to support
agricultural production, and got Congressional approval for $140 million in new public works.
Overall, he nearly doubled the federal public works expenditures between 1929 and 1931.
It just wasn’t nearly enough. Because what Hoover didn’t allow was for
the federal government to take over the situation completely.
He relied primarily on private businesses and state and local governments to stimulate
the economy, and that was insufficient. It’s not surprising when you consider that in 1929
Federal expenditures accounted for 3% of our gross domestic product. Today it’s more
like 20%. So, it was just really hard to imagine the
Federal government doing anything on such a large scale to address a national problem
because it had never really done that much before.
Hoover also hiked taxes as part of a plan to stabilize the banks by balancing the federal
budget, providing confidence for foreign creditors, and stopping them from buying American gold.
This would support bonds and also keep the federal government out of competition with
private borrowers. The Revenue Act of 1932 passed Congress, but it didn’t do much to
stop the Depression. In fact, arguably it made it worse.
Though ultimately, this dire situation forced Hoover into a truly radical move. In January
1932 he and Congress created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was basically a
federal bailout program that borrowed money to provide emergency loans to banks, building-and-loan
societies, railroads, and agricultural corporations. The problem was that by 1932 bailing out the
banks wasn’t enough and the Great Depression started to take shape. By early 1932 well
over 10 million people were out of work, 20% of the labor force. And in big cities the
numbers were even worse, especially for people of color. Like, in Chicago, 4% of the population
was African American, but they made up more than 16% of the unemployed.
Although Hoover famously claimed that no one starved, which was a little bit let-them-eat-cake-y,
people did search trash cans for food. And many Americans were forced to ask for relief.
Hoover’s response was to try to encourage private charity through the unfortunately
acronymed President’s Organization on Unemployment Relief. Or “POUR.”
New York City’s government relief programs rose from $9 million in 1930 to $58 million
in 1932, and private charitable giving did increase from $4.5 million to $21 million,
and that sounds great until you realize that the total of $79 million that New York City
spent on relief in 1932 was less than ONE MONTH’s lost wages for the 800,000 people
who were unemployed.[3] Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document?
I hope it’s a break from the unrelenting misery. Probably not.
The rules here are simple. I guess the author of the Mystery Document and then usually fail
and get shocked with the shock pen, which is a real shock pen no matter what you people
say. Alright, what do we got here? “We sit looking at the floor. No one dares
think of the coming winter. There are only a few more days of summer. Everyone is anxious
to get work to lay up something for that long siege of bitter cold. But there is no work.
Sitting in the room we all know it. This is why we don’t talk; much. We look at the
floor dreading to see that knowledge in each other’s eyes. There is a kind of humiliation
in it. We look away from each other. We look at the floor. It’s too terrible to see this
animal terror in each other’s eyes.” I mean, Stan, unemployment was 25% and this
could be literally any of those people. I’m gonna guess that it’s a woman, because men
were usually on the road trying to find work while women would go to these offices to look.
I – I mean it could be many – I have no idea. Ummm Janet Smith.
Meridel Le Sueur? She’s a good writer. Maybe we should hire her. AH!
So, often at Crash Course we try to show how conventional wisdom about history isn’t
always correct. But in the case of the hardships experienced during the Great Depression, it
really is. The pictures of Dorothea Lange and Walker
Evans, and Steinbeck’s description in Grapes of Wrath of Okies leaving the dust bowl in
the usually vain hope of a better life in California, they tell the story better than
I can. Thousands of Americans took to the road in
search of work and thousands more stood in breadlines. There were shantytowns for the
homeless called Hoovervilles, and there were protests, like the Bonus March on Washington
by veterans seeking an early payment of a bonus due to them in 1945.
A lot of the debate around the Great Depression revolves around the causes, while still more
concerns the degree to which the federal government’s eventual response, the New Deal, actually
helped to end the Depression. Those questions are controversial because
they’re still relevant. We’re still talking about how to regulate banking.
We’re still talking about what the government’s role in economic policy should be and whether
a strong federal government is ultimately good for an economy or bad for it.
And how you feel about the government’s role in the Great Depression is going to depend
on how you feel about government in general. That said, we shouldn’t let our ideological
feelings about markets and governments and economics obscure the suffering that millions
of Americans experienced during the Great Depression.
For generations of Americans, it was one of the defining experiences of their lives. Thanks
for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, written by Raoul Meyer, and made with the help of all of these nice people. And
it is possible because of your support through Subbable.
These videos are only possible because of the support Crash Course viewers give the
show on a monthly basis through Subbable. There’s a link in the video info if you’d
like to join those subscribers. Cool perks and stuff, but mostly educational
video available for free to everyone forever. Thank you for watching and supporting Crash
Course and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome…I’m gonna hit the
globe! Nailed it.

About the author

Comments

  1. Tariff rises something happening now US and China has confirmed import taxes. A recession is on the way guys be prepared.

  2. The city I live in (Birmingham, Al) was described as the worst hit city by the Great Depression. The giant industrialist blackmailed the government to keep taxes ridiculously low so when the stock market crashed business's just shut down and moved out of town (the town of Mountain Brook which is one of the wealthiest in the country, was established in 1929 oddly enough). The city had no money to help all the people who were already woefully underpaid and now jobless. So who was to blame. From the research I've done, it was the irresponsible, immoral wealthy, who choose greed over the community. Have we learned anything?

  3. Damn! This 1929-1939 Depression looks just like what I see today in the U.S. The events that lead to the Depression are almost the same as now. Does anyone else agree?!

  4. You speak too quickly and consistently with a rising terminal that makes everything seem like a question. Good content but terrible presentation- annoying.

  5. I've been out of highschool for three years now, and am still watching crashcourse. My little sister is just getting into it her freshman year, and it's required, not leisure like me😂

  6. Deflation is bad in that people get laid off. Inflation is bad, because money becomes worth less. Both lead to the same thing, but with different looks. In an inflation spiral you end up like Germany after WW1 with people rolling wheelbarrows full of money to buy a little food. In a deflation spiral you end up with almost no money period. I would guess the difference comes with the speed it would take effect, but ultimately they end in a depression.

  7. " the first ever public office he held was president of the united states"

    Makes me think of another certain president

  8. The failure of the Federal Reserves and President Hoover's signing of the Smoot-Hawley tariffs were strong contributors. FDR's unpredictability kept the economy from recovering. You need capital for Capitalism and certainty for people to risk their money in investments.

  9. They will have to rename the Great Depression to just Depression, because the next collapse will be The Greater Depression. People back then had big families, they didn't rely on the government, their needs were simple, they could take care of themselves and they had a strong sense of community and religion. Today, none of that is true, and it will be a catastrophe! People can't live without their daily Starbucks, they have to have WiFi or cell service, if they don't have followers or likes on social media they get depressed. It will be very humbling for many to be set back several decades of wealth and creature comfort. The current trend is unsustainable. People take things for granted.

  10. Not a bad video…except for the part about Andrew Jackson. He hated central banks for 1 main reason, they are PRIVATELY OWNED. Just like our "Federal" reserve bank today is. This guy has a pretty good grip on history, but he seems to have little knowledge on the pure EVIL that is privately owned central banking. When he talks about the things people talked about then are the same things we talk about now,like how to regulate banks, how to reign in the stock market etc., the lack of oversight is a direct correlation with privately owned central banking

  11. "After Laughter is about the people's face when they're done laughing."
    – Hayley Williams
    (lead singer of Paramore)

    The Great 'After Laughter' will be here soon if the economy of the US are rearely low again like the Great Depression, and there is no joy and laughter over the economy.

  12. Great teaching! Soon you will have the opportunity to make a comparing Analysis between the Great Depression and the 2nd Depression (that‘s how we will call it). We are all living in a world based on debt. Entirely. Even the most old people don’t know another world than a debt-driven World. We absolutely have no clue, what is laying ahead of us.

  13. I like this guy. I watch pretty much everything he posts on utube..but the bloke is pretty one sided..he is definitely a leftist..he is a big supporter of big government..he dose'nt really understand the importance of gold…he dose'nt really understand the fundentmental pricpals of war..however he is fun to watch and i certainly intend to keep watching all his content.

  14. Billie Eilish would have survived the Great Depression she has been depressed since she was a child lol (not laughing at the depression laughing at how she would have survived and how this would have been great for her)

  15. This was a great video.

    It was the first time we got to really out our economic blue print to the test. Did it fail? Sure. But look how much we learned about how to manage the economy. It's not an easy thing to do.

    This video listed a lot of issues that the other crash course econ videos ive watched talk about like tarriffs inflation deflation banking system just to name a few

  16. Andrew Jackson fought off central bankers and reduced national debt to 33 000 dollars. You sponsored scumbag

  17. People are searching tash cans for food and begging for relief today. We just call them junkies and hobos.

  18. There was much more going on. The early 20th century saw immense poverty combined with mass urbanization and social instability. In the decades before the market collapse and Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of Americans were involved in mass protests, riots, violent labor strikes, military-style race wars, assassinations, terrorist attacks, etc. It was a crappy era for most Americans who neither were farmers nor investors.

  19. The banks caused the depression by cutting off the money supply.
    Thank you. Someone did some home work. This is what they are doing now. They are private bankers not part of the government. Sum bags.

  20. Get rid of the FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM GET IT OUT OF THE PRIVATE BANKERS AND TURN IT BACK OVER TO GONGRESS WITH GOLD AND SILVER AS COINAGE ACCORDING TO THE CONSTITUTION.

  21. deflation isn't the problem, it's the inflation created in the first place! Deflation is just the hangover from reckless monetary policy. End the fed, gold is the ultimate form of money.

  22. Deflation is bad…
    Cellphones have been deflating since the 80s and with more features, the same as computers…
    I don't see anyone complaining about his grandfather who worked in a human calculator factory…

  23. If you are not in debt in the first place then you dont have a problem. Grow slowly. Keynesian economics does not work because for every dollar that is borrowed from the Federal reserve there is a debt attached to it which means we will never be out of debt. If Keynesian economics worked then we wouldn't have the crashes that we have. By the way, the crashes are by design.

  24. The reason we were on the gold standard is gold has intrinsic value whereas the dollar does not. The only thing holding the dollars value is our trust in it.

  25. The New Deal did little to get us out of the depression. The War put men and women to work. Also, people were forced to save through rationing and encouraged to be conservative with things like victory gardens.

  26. Its sad. That trump administration is placking tariff on india and Chinese imports and they are reacting by imposing their own version of tariffs.

    I support trump as a non american. I think he means well. But he is destroying trade.

  27. It’s so interesting how the human race can suffer because of the value of a piece of paper. There were just as many apples before and after. But because of the perceived value of things changed, people suffered. It’s so futile. Nothing physically changed in the universe at the time. Only the perceived value of things changed. There was no plague, no burning of world crops, no alien invasion… just the perceived value of something. What a shame.

  28. The more recent as well as the depression was methodically devised. Power dominance control FEAR then the false savior

  29. 7:15 A president who's never held an elective office before? Wow your not going to make that mistake again… Oh wait.

  30. Aut to be a law that teaches cant talk about Kanze without talking about shicago school. Its like I'm hearing a Christian prayer for Jesus to save us from the famine, and I'm a satanist. Except its prayers for a large federal government, and I'm a libertarian.

  31. Meanwhile in Germany unemployment was down to about 1 – 1.5 million by 1936, massive state investments into projects like autobahns which improved national trade and infrastructure, more women were in work, the agricultural industry was saved, corporate and commercial industry was privately owned so individuals could make money and innovate but state directed to provide for the states collective needs, boys and girls were taught traditional masculinity and femininity and to embrace differences, communal festivals and events would bring people together, charity and state organised charity/welfare was helping those genuinely in need like the elderly, the worlds first animal rights laws were introduced, working conditions and workers rights improved and people were unified and proud of their country.

    Sources from the time say it was some of the happiest and prosperous times in their lives…all these good things are overshadowed by the regimes antisemitism and crimes it WOULD go into commit. Am i the only one who thinks it's a shame people are historically ignorant of these successes in 1932-36 Nazi Germany?

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