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2012-08-13


Main Causes of Great Depression

Paul Alexander 3rd: May 13, 1996

The Great Depression was the worst economic slump ever in U.S. history, and one which spread to virtually all of the industrialized world. The depression began in late 1929 and lasted for about a decade. Many factors played a role in bringing about the depression; however, the main cause for the Great Depression was the combination of the greatly unequal distribution of wealth throughout the 1920’s, and the extensive stock market speculation that took place during the latter part that same decade. The maldistribution of wealth in the 1920’s existed on many levels. Money was distributed between the rich and the middle-class, between industry and agriculture within the United States, and between the U.S. and Europe. This imbalance of wealth created an unstable economy. The excessive speculation in the late 1920’s kept the stock market artificially high, but eventually lead to large market crashes. These market crashes, combined with the maldistribution of wealth, caused the American economy to capsize.


The “roaring twenties” was an era when our country prospered tremendously. The nation’s total realized income rose from $74.3 billion in 1923 to $89 billion in 1929. However, the rewards of the “Coolidge Prosperity” of the 1920’s were not shared evently among all Americans. According to a study done by the Brookings Institute, in 1929 the top 0.1% of Americans had a combined income equal to the bottom 42%. That same top 0.1% of Americans in 1929 controlled 34% of all savings, while 80% of Americans had no savings at all. Automotive industry mogul Henry Ford provides a striking example of the unequal distribution of wealth between the rich and middle-class. Henry Ford reported a personal income of $14 million in the same year that the average personal income was $750. By present day standards, where the average yearly income in U.S. is around $18,500, Mr. Ford would be earning over $345 million a year! This maldistribution of income between the rich and middle class grew throughout the 1920’s. While the disposable income per capita rose 9% from 1920 to 1029, those with income within the top 1% enjoyed a stupendous 75% increase in per capita disposable income.

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