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The World’s Most Famous Case of Deflation

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The World's Most Famous Case of Deflation (Part 1 of 2)

The World’s Most Famous Case of Deflation (Part 1 of 2)

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

The Great Depression was the most severe economic depression ever experienced by the Western world.

It was during this troubled time that the world’s most famous case of deflation also happened. The resulting aftermath was so bad that economic policy since has been chiefly designed to prevent deflation at all costs.

Setting the Stage

The transition from wartime to peacetime created a bumpy economic road after World War I.

Growth has hard to come by in the first years after the war, and by 1920-21 the economy fell into a brief deflationary depression. Prices dropped -18%, and unemployment jumped up to 11.7% in 1921.

However, the troubles wouldn’t last. During the “Roaring Twenties”, economic growth picked up as the new technologies like the automobile, household appliances, and other mass-produced products led to a vibrant consumer culture and growth in the economy.

More than half of the automobiles in the nation were sold on credit by the end of the 1920s. Consumer debt more than doubled during the decade.

While GDP growth during this period was extremely strong, the Roaring Twenties also had a dark side. Income inequality during this era was the highest in American history. By 1929, the income of the top 1% had increased by 75%. Income for the rest of people (99%) increased by only 9%.

The Roaring Twenties ended with a bang. On Black Thursday (Oct 24, 1929), the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 11% at the open in very heavy volume, precipitating the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression of the 1930s.

The Cause of the Great Depression

Economists continue to debate to this day on the cause of the Great Depression. Here’s perspectives from three different economic schools:

Keynesian:

John Maynard Keynes saw the causes of the Great Depression hinge upon a lack of aggregate demand. This later became the subject of his most influential work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, which was published in 1936.

Keynes argued that the solution was to stimulate the economy through some combination of two approaches:
1. A reduction in interest rates (monetary policy), and
2. Government investment in infrastructure (fiscal policy).

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” – John Maynard Keynes

Monetarist:

Monetarists such as Milton Friedman viewed the cause of the Great Depression as a fall in the money supply.

Friedman and Schwartz argue that people wanted to hold more money than the Federal Reserve was supplying. As a result, people hoarded money by consuming less. This caused a contraction in employment and production since prices were not flexible enough to immediately fall.

“The Great Depression, like most other periods of severe unemployment, was produced by government mismanagement rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy.” ― Milton Friedman

Austrian:

Austrian economists argue that the Great Depression was the inevitable outcome of the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve during the 1920s.

In their opinion, the central bank’s policy was an “easy credit policy” which led to an unsustainable credit-driven boom.

“Any increase in the relative size of government in the economy, therefore, shifts the societal consumption-investment ratio in favor of consumption, and prolongs the depression.” – Murray Rothbard

The Great Depression and Deflation

Between 1929 and 1932, worldwide GDP fell by an estimated 15%.

Deflation hit.

Personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices plunged. International trade fell by more than 50%. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25% and in some countries rose as high as 33%.

These statistics were only the tip of the iceberg. Learn about the full effects, the stories, and the recovery from the Great Depression in Part 2.

About the Money Project

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

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Mapped: The 10 U.S. States With the Lowest Real GDP Growth

In this graphic, we show where real GDP lagged the most across America in 2023 as high interest rates weighed on state economies.

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The Top 10 U.S. States, by Lowest Real GDP Growth

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

While the U.S. economy defied expectations in 2023, posting 2.5% in real GDP growth, several states lagged behind.

Last year, oil-producing states led the pack in terms of real GDP growth across America, while the lowest growth was seen in states that were more sensitive to the impact of high interest rates, particularly due to slowdowns in the manufacturing and finance sectors.

This graphic shows the 10 states with the least robust real GDP growth in 2023, based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Weakest State Economies in 2023

Below, we show the states with the slowest economic activity in inflation-adjusted terms, using chained 2017 dollars:

RankStateReal GDP Growth 2023 YoYReal GDP 2023
1Delaware-1.2%$74B
2Wisconsin+0.2%$337B
3New York+0.7%$1.8T
4Missississippi+0.7%$115B
5Georgia+0.8%$661B
6Minnesota+1.2%$384B
7New Hampshire+1.2%$91B
8Ohio+1.2%$698B
9Iowa+1.3%$200B
10Illinois+1.3%$876B
U.S.+2.5%$22.4T

Delaware witnessed the slowest growth in the country, with real GDP growth of -1.2% over the year as a sluggish finance and insurance sector dampened the state’s economy.

Like Delaware, the Midwestern state of Wisconsin also experienced declines across the finance and insurance sector, in addition to steep drops in the agriculture and manufacturing industries.

America’s third-biggest economy, New York, grew just 0.7% in 2023, falling far below the U.S. average. High interest rates took a toll on key sectors, with notable slowdowns in the construction and manufacturing sectors. In addition, falling home prices and a weaker job market contributed to slower economic growth.

Meanwhile, Georgia experienced the fifth-lowest real GDP growth rate. In March 2024, Rivian paused plans to build a $5 billion EV factory in Georgia, which was set to be one of the biggest economic development initiatives in the state in history.

These delays are likely to exacerbate setbacks for the state, however, both Kia and Hyundai have made significant investments in the EV industry, which could help boost Georgia’s manufacturing sector looking ahead.

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