The Depression's Bright Side

Article excerpt

"The Most Technologically Progressive Decade of the Century" by Alexander J. Field, in The American Economic Review (Sept. 2003), 2014 Broadway, Ste. 305, Nashville, Tenn. 37203.

Maybe the Great Depression was not so bad after all. In fact, it was a lot better than that. It was "the most technologically progressive of any comparable period in U.S. economic history," Field emphatically declares.

In the conventional telling, America owes its post-World War II prosperity to huge increases in productivity and government spending during the war. But the real war effort occupied only three years, and data from that period reveal as many subpar as stellar productivity performances in various sectors of the economy.

The real story, says Field, an economist at Santa Clara University, is that the postwar economy rode on a wave of advances from the 1929-41 period. Plexiglass, Teflon, and nylon were all Depression-era innovations. So were organizational techniques pioneered by makers of cars, vacuum cleaners, and radios. All of these new processes and technologies, and more, enabled the nation to churn out tanks, ships, and airplanes in the 1940s. The Depression brought the launch of the workhorse DC-3 airplane and major government investment in municipal airports that paved the way for a postwar boom. …


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