Gold, France, and the Great Depression, 1919-1932

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H. Clark Johnson

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H. Clark Johnson develops a convincing and original narrative of the events that led to the major economic catastrophe of the twentieth century. He identifies the undervaluation and consequent shortage of world gold reserves after World War I as the underlying cause of a sustained international price deflation that brought the Great Depression. And, he argues, the reserve-hoarding policies of central banks—particularly the Bank of France—were its proximate cause.

The book presents a detailed history of the events that culminated in the depression, highlighting the role of specific economic incidents, national decisions, and individuals. Johnson’s analysis of how French domestic politics, diplomacy, economic ideology, and monetary policy contributed to the international deflation is new in the literature. He reaches provocative conclusions about the functioning of the pre-1914 gold standard, the spectacular postwar movement of gold to India, the return of sterling to prewar parity in 1925, the German reparations controversy, the stock market crash of 1929, the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, the central European banking crisis of 1931, and the end of sterling convertibility in 1931. The book also provides a nuanced picture of Keynes during the years before his General Theory and deals at length with the history of economic thought in order to explain the failure of recent scholarship to adequately account for the Great Depression.

H. Clark Johnson is an economist with the Joint U.S.-Saudi-Arabian Commission for Economic Development.

"Johnson has provided the first systematic study of the important, possibly pervasive, role played by French monetary policy in forcing a major deflation of the world economy which may account, in large measure, for the depth of the depression. Subsequent work on the Great Depression will, I believe, acknowledge his pioneering work."—Gail E. Makinen, Library of Congress

"Gold, France, and the Great Depression, 1929-1932 introduces a new player into the persistent efforts of economic historians to understand the disastrous 1930s. . . . The publication of this book heralds the arrival of a first-rate interpreter of modern financial complexity."—Charles Kindleberger

"Persuasively told."—Foreign Affairs

"Johnson brings monetary theory and the clarifying perspective of hindsight to bear in a way contemporaries could not, providing an interpretation that is original and provocative to explain the Depression from a 'systematic monetary perspective.' . . . His arguments are refreshing and will prove controversial. . . . Johnson's interpretation is stimulating and merits close attention."—Kenneth Moure, American Historical Review

"Johnson writes clearly and crisply and furnishes a glossary of technical terms; historians can read this book, profitable if not pleasurably. . . . Although Johnson has used unpublished sources to good purpose, his account is new and valuable not because he has turned up startling new evidence but because he has retold a well-worn story with new emphasis. . . . This austere book is an astringent economic description and critique of the would-be’s, could-be’s and should-be’s of monetary policies in the 1920s."—Reed Geiger, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

1997 Honorable Mention award for Economics given by the Association of American Publishers, Professional Scholarly Publishing Division (AAP/PSP)
ISBN: 9780300069860
Publication Date: January 21, 1998
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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