Great Depression in Germany

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The severe depression faced by the German economy in the 1930s was partly due to the problems of recovery from the First World War. War expenditure had been almost completely financed by loans and the money supply had been quadrupled in the period from 1914 to 1918. Inflationary pressures that had started during the war intensified year by year and culminated in the disastrous German hyperinflation of 1922-23 [1]. By the time prices were stabilised by Hjalmar Schacht's establishment of the "rentenmark" [2], extensive damage had been done and the banking system had been seriously weakened. In 1923, shortfalls in Germany's payments of reparations had prompted French, Italian and Belgian governments to attempt to seize resources by occupying the Ruhrhe dispute was eventually settled by acceptance of the Dawes Plan [3] of 1924, under which payments would be rescheduled and Germany would be provided with massive loans, mainly from the United States. American financier P. Morgan floated the loan on the U.S. market, which was quickly oversubscribed. Over the next four years, U.S. banks continued to lend Germany enough money to enable it to meet its reparation payments to countries such as France and the United Kingdom. These countries, in turn, used their reparation payments from Germany to service their war debts to the United States. Subsequent recovery had been heavily dependent on imported capital.

It was in late 1926 that the German authorities decided to restrain the subsequent expansion of economic activity. According to Peter Temin the President of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht, became worried about stock market speculation and took action that was more severe than that undertaken by the United States' Federal Reserve Bank in 1928, by withdrawing tax exemption from foreign holders of German bonds and forcing banks to reduce discounting. The German stock exchange crashed in 1927, and when the downturn of economic activity in the United States started in 1929, economic activity in Germany was already declining.

In 1930 the wartime allies agreed to the Young Plan [4]which rescheduled Germany's reparation payments, but gave priority to the repayment of debts to the United States. Hjalmar Schacht resigned in protest and, in an article in a London magazine, John Maynard Keynes commented that it would "weigh on Germany much more heavily than the Dawes Plan, which it was agreed she could not support"[5].

In order to stay on the gold standard, action was taken in 1930 to stem the outflow of gold and correct a persistent balance of payments deficit. The Reichsbank raised its discount rate to well above British and American rates and there was a sharp reduction in the money supply[6], and for the next two years (according to Temin (1989) page 31, Chancellor Brüning pursued a relentless policy of highly restrictive budgets.

From April to June 1931, as a result of three years of deflation and the withdrawal of American funds, many banks found themselves with insufficient reserves to pay depositors. In June, President Herbert Hoover announced a one year moratorium on international payments of reparations and war debts and also provided a $150 million credit to the Reichsbank, but withdrawals continued.

The Reichsbank's discount rate was raised to 15% in July to little effect and there was a run on the German banks and savings banks followed. After a few hours the banks paid out only 20 per cent of the sums demanded by customers; and the government announced a two day bank holiday. A "credit crunch intensified the depression which continued until the Nazis came to power in 1933

Lausanne Conference [7]

On an index of 1928 = 100, consumer prices fell to 77 in 1933; and industrial production rose to 110 in 1929, fell to 59 in 1932. Unemployment rose from about 5% in 1929 to 30% in 1932 and did not return to 1929 levels until 1936, and industrial unemployment averaged about 22% compared with France's 10% and The United States' 26% .

[8]).

[9]


[10]

  1. The Nightmare German Inflation, Scientific Market Analysis, 1970.
  2. R. Kuczynski "The Rentenmark Miracle and the German stabilization"
  3. The Dawes Plan NW travel Magazine online
  4. The Young Plan, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001-7
  5. John Maynard Keynes: The Great Slump 1930, London and Atheneum magazine 1930
  6. There is a detailed account of monetary developments at the time on page 150 of Ben Bernanke: Essays on the Great Deflation, Princeton University Press, 2004
  7. Marquis Cannaby The Lausanne Conference, Associated Content Society, 2008
  8. Hans-Joachim Braun: The German Economy in the Twentieth Century,Routledge 1990 (Questia [1])
  9. Mäuge Adalet: Fundamentals, Capital Flows and Capital Flight: The German Banking Crisis of 1931 2005
  10. Peter Temin: "Transmission of the Great Depression", The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 2. Spring, 1993 [2]