May 12, 2010
Many Americans know that the Great Depression was started by the bursting of the giant Wall Street bubble of the 1920’s (fueled by the use of bank deposits on speculative gambling, which is why Glass-Steagall was passed) , which in turn caused a run on American banks.
But most Americans don’t know that the second leg of the Depression was caused by European defaults.
As Yves Smith reminds us:
Recall that the Great Depression nadir was the sovereign debt default phase.
The second leg down of the Depression was larger than the first, as shown by this chart of the Dow:
[Click here for full chart]
The second leg down was primarily initiated by the failure of the Creditanstalt bank in Austria. Creditanstalt (also spelled Kreditanstalt) declared bankruptcy in May 1931.
As Time Magazine noted on November 2, 1931:
May 14 : First thunderclap of the present crisis: collapse in Vienna of Kreditanstalt, colossal Rothschild bank, which is taken over by the Austrian Government, shaking confidence in related German banks.
A book written by Aurel Schubert, published by Cambridge University Press, points out that:
Austria played a prominent role in the worldwide events of 1931 as the largest bank in Central and Eastern Europe, the Viennese Credit-Anstalt, collapsed and led Europe into a financial panic that spread to other parts of the world. The events in Austria were pivotal to the economic developments of the 1930s ….
As Megan McArdle points out:
The Great Depression was composed of two separate panics. As you can see from contemporary accounts … in 1930 people thought they’d seen the worst of things.
Unfortunately, the economic conditions created by the first panic were now eating away at the foundations of financial institutions and governments, notably the failure of Creditanstalt in Austria. The Austrian government, mired in its own problems, couldn’t forestall bankruptcy; though the bank was ultimately bought by a Norwegian bank, the contagion had already spread. To Germany. Which was one of the reasons that the Nazis came to power. It’s also, ultimately, one of the reasons that we had our second banking crisis, which pushed America to the bottom of the Great Depression, and brought FDR to power here.
Not that I think we’re going to get another Third Reich out of this, or even another Great Depression. But it means we should be wary of the infamous “double dip” that a lot of economists have been expecting.
Way to go, guys … you’re re-creating history.
This article was posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 4:22 am