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Can Great Depression Theories Explain the Great Recession?

Schlenkhoff, Georg (2009): Can Great Depression Theories Explain the Great Recession?

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The recent recession has brought a sharp decrease in income, output, and world trade, as well as an increase in unemployment in developed and underdeveloped countries. Experts such as Paul Krugman, Christina Romer, or Barry Eichengreen, compare the current situation with the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, the current debate is whether that comparison is even applicable. Since policy makers have to understand the roots and the dimension of the crisis in order to seize the fiscal stimulus package, adjust the level of taxes, and change regulation of the financial sector, the debate is of course a reasonable one to have. The Great Depression is the archetype of a recession, so it provides policy makers with valuable insights into right and wrong reaction methods. However, if policy makers orientate at the Great Depression, they have to make sure that the roots of the crisis are similar. So this paper addresses the question: Is the current financial crisis similar to the Great Depression? For that purpose I will systematically compare the Great Recession with the Great Depression. First, by examining the theories that commonly explain the Great Depression. Subsequently I will apply these theories to the Great Recession and discuss if they are applicable. I will argue that some theories are still applicable. For example, which flaws in the monetary system contributed to the Great Recession as well as to the Great Depression? However, the economic environment has changed and applying the same policy reactions today as in the Great Depression will be a policy error. Finally I will briefly present policy recommendations that are based on the findings.

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