Allowing the cascade of financial collapses at the start of the first Great Depression was a mistake. However, there was nothing about this initial collapse that necessitated the decade of double-digit unemployment that was the central tragedy of the Great Depression. This was the result of the failure of the federal government to respond with sufficient vigor to mass unemployment. Indeed, the economy only broke out of the Depression when the federal government undertook massive deficit spending to fight World War II. Deficits peaked at more than 25 percent of GDP. This would be the equivalent, in today’s economy, of running annual deficits of $4 trillion.
There was no economic reason that the government could not have spent on this scale in 1931, as opposed to 1941; the obstacles were political. Then, as now, politicians in Washington were obsessed with the budget deficit. They never would have countenanced such spending, apart from the threat to the nation posed by Hitler and the Axis powers. The New Deal deficit spending helped boost the economy and bring the unemployment rate down to single-digit levels, but fear of deficits limited the scale of New Deal programs and caused Roosevelt to reverse course and cut back on spending in 1937, just as the economy was gaining momentum.
Unfortunately, the country seems destined to follow the same course in the current slump as it did in the 30s....
The Huffington Post: U.S. States, Localities Not Providing Economy With Their Usual Boost
WASHINGTON — In a healthy recovery, states and localities produce jobs, expand social services and help fuel the nation's economic growth.
Then there's the 2011 recovery.
The U.S. economy is moving ahead, however fitfully. Yet state and local governments are still stuck in recession. Short of cash, they cut 30,000 jobs in May, the seventh straight month they've shed workers. Rather than add to U.S. economic growth, they're subtracting from it.
And ordinary Americans are feeling it – from reduced services to fewer teachers, police officers and firefighters.
Few see the pain subsiding soon. Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities, expects state and local governments to slash 20,000 to 30,000 jobs a month through the middle of 2012.
Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors notes that when states cut spending to balance their budgets, as required annually, a ripple effect multiplies the damage: Companies that do business with states and localities suffer. These companies, in turn, scale back their own hiring.....