The Second Great Depression: Why the Economic Crisis Is Worse Than You Think

By DeLong, J. Bradford | Foreign Affairs, July/August 2013 | Go to article overview

The Second Great Depression: Why the Economic Crisis Is Worse Than You Think


DeLong, J. Bradford, Foreign Affairs


The Second Great Depression Why the Economic Crisis Is Worse Than You Think After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead by Alan s. Blinder. Penguin Press, 2013, 476 pp. $29.95.

Alan Blinder is only the most recent in a series of prominent economists who have produced analytic accounts of the U.S. economic downturn. His crisp narrative lays out the policy options that were available at each stage of the crisis, and his analysis is infused with a deep understanding of macroeconomics. Overall, it is the best general volume on the subject that has been published to date.

Despite its many virtues, however, the book paints an overly optimistic portrait of the state of the U.S. economy. "More than four years after Lehman Brothers went under," Blinder writes, "policy makers are still nursing a frail economy back to health." But the U.S. economy is worse than "frail," and there are few signs that it is being nursed "back to health." Most economists claim at least one silver lining in the economic downturn: that it was not as bad as the Great Depression. Up until recently, I agreed; I even took to calling the episode "the Lesser Depression." I now suspect that I was wrong. Compare the ongoing crisis to the Great Depression, and there is hardly anything "lesser" about it. The European economy today stands in a worse position compared to 2007 than it did in 1935 compared to 1929, when the Great Depression began. And it looks as if the U.S. economy, when all is said and done, will have faced certainly one lost decade, and perhaps even two.

The U.S. economy has enjoyed a recovery only in the sense that conditions have not gotten worse. Blinder notes that the unemployment rate jumped to ten percent at the height of the crisis and is now hovering around eight percent, nearly halfway back to economic health. But this assessment is misleading. In the middle of the last decade, the percentage of American adults who were employed was roughly 63 percent. That figure dropped to about 59 percent in 2009. It remains there today. From the perspective of employment, the U.S. economy is not recovering but flatlining.

Look at the gdp figures: in the 12 years between the beginning of the Great Depression and the United States' entry into World War II, the U.S. economy saw its production drop by an amount equal to 180 percent of the output of one average pre-crisis year. If one assumes, as the Congressional Budget Office does, that U.S. production will return to its pre-2008 form by 2017, the economy will have suffered a shortfall equivalent to only 60 percent of one average precrisis year. But it is unlikely that the economic downturn will be over by 2017: no war or major innovation appears to be looming on the horizon that could propel the country into an economic boom the way World War II did at the end of the Great Depression. If the downturn drags on into a second lost decade, the United States will incur further losses equal to the output of a full average pre-crisis year, bringing the total cost of the crisis to 160 percent of an average pre-crisis year and nearly equal to that of the Great Depression.

Of course, the present downturn has caused far less human misery than the Great Depression did. But that is because of political factors, not economic ones. The great network of social insurance programs established by President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, President Harry Truman's Fair Deal, President John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, and President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and defended by President Bill Clinton, sharply limits the amount of poverty a downturn can cause.

And what of the future? Only ambitious political action of the kind that created those programs can insure the country against suffering an equal economic calamity down the line. Yet the U.S. political system is dysfunctional. Congress will not support the kind of financial regulation the country sorely needs. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Second Great Depression: Why the Economic Crisis Is Worse Than You Think
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.