Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy

By Thomas Sowell | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
NATIONAL OUTPUT

In the three years following the great stock market crash of 1929, the money supply in the United States declined by a staggering one-third. This meant that it was now impossible to continue to sell as many goods and hire as many people at the old price levels, including the old wage levels.

If prices and wage rates had also declined immediately by one-third, then of course the reduced money supply could still have bought as much as before, and the same real output and employment could have continued. There would have been the same amount of real things produced, just with smaller numbers on their price tags, so that paychecks with smaller numbers on them could have bought just as much as before. In reality, however, a complex national economy can never adjust that fast or that perfectly, so there was a massive decline in total sales, with corresponding declines in production and employment.

Thus began the Great Depression of the 1930s, during which, as many as one-fourth of all workers were unemployed and American corporations as a whole operated at a loss for two years in a row. General. Motors stock, which peaked at 72 3/4 in 1929, hit bottom at 7 5/8 in 1932. U. S. Steel stock went from 261 3/4 to 21 1/4 and General Electric fell from 396 1/4 to 70 1/4. For the entire decade of the 1930s, unemployment averaged more than 18 percent. It was the greatest economic catastrophe in the history of the United States. The fears, policies and institutions it generated were still evident more than half a century later.

What this enormous and deadly reaction to a declining money supply illustrates is that there are economic principles which apply to the national economy as a whole, as well as to particular industries, markets, and occupations. However, in

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Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Chapter I - What Is Economics? 1
  • Part I - Prices 5
  • Chapter 2 - The Role of Prices 7
  • Chapter 3 - Price Controls 21
  • Chapter 4 - An Overview 39
  • Part II - Industry and Commerce 57
  • Chapter 5 - The Rise and Fall of Businesses 59
  • Chapter 6 - The Role of Profits -- and Losses 73
  • Chapter 7 - Big Business and Government 89
  • Chapter 8 - An Overview 105
  • Part III - Work and Pay 125
  • Chapter 9 - Productivity and Pay 127
  • Chapter 10 - Controlled Labor Markets 149
  • Chapter 11 - An Overview 167
  • Part IV - Time and Risk 173
  • Chapter 12 - Investment and Speculation 175
  • Chapter 13 - Risks and Insurance 193
  • Chapter 14 - An Overview 207
  • Part V - The National Economy 213
  • Chapter 15 - National Output 215
  • Chapter 16 - Money and the Banking System 223
  • Chapter 17 - The Role of Government 237
  • Part VI - The International Economy 267
  • Chapter 19 - International Trade 269
  • Chapter 20 - International Transfers of Wealth 283
  • Chapter 21 - An Overview 297
  • Part VII - Popular Economic Fallacies 303
  • Chapter 22 - Non-Economic Values 305
  • Chapter 23 - Prices and Purchasing Power 315
  • Chapter 24 - Business and Labor 329
  • Chapter 25 - An Overview 343
  • Sources 347
  • Index 359
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