Reflections on the Great Depression

Reflections on the Great Depression

Randall E. Parker

This book explores the most prominent economic explanations of the Great Depression and how it affected the lives, experiences, and subsequent thinking of economists who lived through that era. Presented in interview format, this collection of conversations with Moses Abramovitz, Morris Adelman, Milton Friedman, Albert Hart, Charles Kindleberger, Wassily Leontief, Paul Samuelson, Anna Schwartz, James Tobin, Herbert Stein and Victor Zarnowitz provides a record of their reflections on the economics of the Great Depression and on the major events which occurred during those critical years. This volume is also another chapter in the legacy of the interwar generation of economists and is intended as a token of gratitude for the contributions they have made to the economics profession. Randall Parker has given us a window into the lives of these gifted scholars and an important glimpse into the world that shaped them.

Chapter 7: Anna Schwartz

Randall E. Parker

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology


In terms of written research, Anna Schwartz has been the point person deflecting criticism and defending the validity of the monetary hypothesis of the Depression. As co-author with Milton Friedman ofA Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Schwartz has steadfastly attempted to refute (some would say attack) any and all theories proposed to supplant the monetary hypothesis as the leading explanation of the Depression. In particular, Peter Ternin’s 1976 book Did Monetary Forces Cause the Great Depression? dismissed the role of money and instead claimed the Depression was caused by a decline in autonomous consumption. This set off an exchange between Temin and Schwartz with which any student of the literature on the Depression is well familiar. I had a few questions on this matter that I felt compelled to ask. Additionally, of all the interviews conducted, Anna Schwartz possessed the most extensive knowledge of the literature on the Great Depression and the questions I asked her in this regard are the most detailed and academically oriented. We spoke at her office at the National Bureau of Economic Research in New York in December 1997. When and where were you born and what were you doing during the Great Depress ion? I was born in New York. I was at Barnard College between 193 1 and 1934. Before that I was in school. I guess I didn’t really study the Great Depression until I got to graduate school at Columbia. But my views were transformed when I began working...

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