Cover image for The hungry years : a narrative history of the Great Depression in America
The hungry years : a narrative history of the Great Depression in America
Watkins, T. H. (Tom H.), 1936-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt & Company, [1999]

Physical Description:
587 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"A Marian Wood book."

Format :


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E806 .W35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E806 .W35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E806 .W35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E806 .W35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E806 .W35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E806 .W35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The acclaimed author of Righteous Pilgrim delivers this dramatic account of the Great Depression as seen by those who lived through it. Less concerned with the power brokers in Washington than with the daily struggles of ordinary people at the grass roots, The Hungry Years draws on little-known oral histories, memoirs, local press, and scholarly monographs to capture the voices of Americans in a time of unprecedented crisis. The result is narrative history at its best: a comprehensive single volume that traces the stages of the disaster chronologically without losing touch with the wounds it inflicted or the ways people responded. Humane and compassionate, historically sound, full of story and anecdote, The Hungry Years puts the reader at the very heart of the maelstrom that was the American Depression.

Author Notes

T.H. Watkins, who wrote numerous books, was best known as the author of "Righteous Pilgrim," winner of the "Los Angeles Times" Book Prize for Biography & a finalist for the National Book Award & the National Book Critics Circle Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

An entire library of books exists on various aspects of the Depression in America. It is therefore a daunting challenge to build something fresh and worthwhile using the well-worn facts and interpretations that form the bedrock of this literature. Montana State University's Watkins (Righteous Pilgrim, etc.) rises to the occasion, artfully assembling carefully selected anecdotes to deliver a brilliant, ground-level portrait of America as it struggled through the long and painful decade of the 1930s. Watkins makes good use of obscure memoirs, oral histories and local press clippings, taking readers deep into the lives of men and women (sharecroppers, auto workers, lumberjacks, students) as they navigated the catastrophe. People had various techniques for coping with the crisis. Some of the techniques were ingenious, many more were pitiful and some were downright evil. Watkins documents the search for scapegoats, especially the rise of virulent anti-Semitism propounded most notably by radio demagogue Father Charles Coughlin. And he elegantly portrays the radicalization of the masses and the rise of the American Communist Party. Exhaustive, eloquent and engaging, Watkins's graceful narrative simultaneously paints a panoramic picture of America and delves, with great understanding and sympathy, into the details of individual lives. No one with an interest in 20th-century American history can afford to miss it. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The Great Depression of the 1930s is one of the defining events of the 20th century. Many of today's government services developed as a result of Franklin Roosevelt's successful attempt to save capitalism. Roosevelt's New Deal also represents an acceptance of the government's responsibility to manage the economy. With one-quarter of the work force unemployed, FDR felt the necessity to act while action was still possible. Unfortunately, Watkins does not make clear the sense of urgency that society felt during the 1930s. Although The Hungry Years is generally readable, Watkins does have a penchant for using the biggest, most obtuse word he can find; the book does not live. Even more to the point, his frequent minor errors (James Madison did not run for the presidency in 1824, nor is Antioch College located in Antioch, Ohio, to cite just two examples) will make historians at least suspect the accuracy of the work as a whole. The book might interest general readers; however, students of 20th-century American history will find Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time (1994) or Studs Terkel's Hard Times (CH, Sep'70) far superior. D. R. Jamieson; Ashland University

Booklist Review

An excellent writer of history, as in his biography of New Dealer Harold Ickes (Righteous Pilgrim, 1990), Watkins here vows to make the Great Depression as experienced by ordinary people "as rich and full and true as [he] can make it." A formidable task, but Watkins ably succeeds. His strategy is to get beyond the Beltway (if Washington, D.C., had one in the 1930s); and, consequently, the alphabet organizations--NRA, RFC, CCC, WPA, et cetera--come to the fore mainly when Watkins summons them in describing how they affected the people of a particular town or locality. His opening section excels in imparting the feelings with which people reacted to the crash of 1929--forced optimism, followed by bewilderment, crushed pride, and deepening fear. The middle class was particularly despondent, reluctant to depart from the ethos of self-reliance to ask for help. The vignettes Watkins selects are gritty, visceral, and seamlessly sutured to the federal programs that rolled out in the course of the decade, making this a signal addition to the rich historiography of the Depression. --Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

One reason the years 1929-39 are known as the Great Depression is that so many Americans became deeply dispirited; some people came to question the fundamentals of a society where things had gone so awry, though others were able to rekindle hope. That's the story Watkins tells here. Largely a sweeping synthesis based on extant historical literature, this book explores how everyday Americans across the country coped with economic disaster. If the story seems somewhat familiar, Watkins, whose previous writings include Righteous Pilgrim, a much-praised biography of Harold Ickes, infuses it with a freshness that makes for compelling reading. Of course, there are reservations. Not everyone suffered during the Depression; nor do we hear much about the diversion provided by popular culture, notably radio and professional sports. These quibbles aside, readers with an eye for vivid narrative will enjoy this lively journey through 1930s America. Recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄBrooks D. Simpson, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Boundaries of Havoc Conventional interpretation maintains that at few times in American history has the human tendency to stare economic catastrophe straight in the face without recognizing it been demonstrated more precisely than in the year or so that followed the stock market crash of October 1929. As a naturalized Central European immigrant working in the Overland automobile works asked a companion, "What t'ell does the stock market have to do with us Overland hunkies? I ain't buyin' no General Motors common or Willys-Overland preferred, are you?" Among those who should have known better, Herbert Hoover himself appeared to be one of the blind leading the blind. "The fundamental business of the country, that is, production and distribution, is on a sound and prosperous basis," the president had announced on October 25, 1929, the day after the stock market debacle of "Black Thursday," as the day already was known. And he kept a generally cheerful face turned to the public (or at least as cheerful as his physiognomy allowed), even after "Black Thursday" was followed by "Black Tuesday," October 29, and then by a period in the first two weeks of November during which "the market continued to act like a rubber ball bounding down statistical stairs," in the memorable phrase of historian Harris Gaylord Warren, and the New York Times industrial averages dropped by another 87 points.     But during a series of conferences with leading industrialists that began in November, Hoover made it clear that his insistence on public optimism derived less from his inability to comprehend facts than from his firm belief that if melancholy were allowed to overcome the public mind, the situation would become infinitely worse than it already was. "Fear, alarm, pessimism, and hesitation," he told the December 14 meeting of the Gridiron Club in Washington in explaining why public optimism had been vital (carefully putting the unpleasantness in the past tense), "swept through the country, which, if unchecked, would have precipitated absolute panic throughout the business world with untold misery in its wake." At the same time, when confronting business leaders privately, Hoover warned them that the nation's economy was on the edge of the abyss and that public cheerfulness would have to be wedded to action by them if a major depression was to be avoided. Most promised faithfully to continue investing in their own and other industries and to maintain wages at current levels. Henry Ford, for one, said he would not only maintain wages but raise them to $7 a day and at the same time increase his capital investment by $25 million in 1930, while the president of the National Electric Light Association told Hoover that the members of the association would commit themselves to an investment of at least $110 million more than they had spent the previous year.     On the face of it, the business community seemed to share Hoover's faith in the healing powers of public optimism. "A serious depression is not on the business horizon," noted The Kiplinger Washington Letter with emphasis on December 9. "Indeed, there were plenty of hardheaded unsentimental men at this conference [a Washington, D.C., gathering] who sincerely believe that 1930 will be what they call a `good year.'" Wall Street appeared to believe it. Richard Whitney, for example, now president of the New York Stock Exchange, wore confidence like an expensive aftershave lotion and simply refused to let gloom overtake him or his bank's brokers. "Now get your smiles on, boys!" he would cry before sending them off to their sales chores every morning. "With satisfaction that a degree of sanity appears to be returning to our investment community," Nation's Business editorialized a little smugly in its December 1929 issue, "and with sympathy for those whose losses have been the sacrificial instruments of restoration, we may view the matter as a manifestation of herd psychology ... the mob was obsessed." By the end of the year, the market had recovered so markedly that Whitney and the Exchange board threw an even bigger New Year's Eve party than usual, featuring the 369th Infantry band playing patriotic airs and other uplifting music right in the middle of the floor while trading was still going on. Friends and relatives of the members were invited and noisemakers handed out. "Pinning tails on the traders," the New York Times reported on January 1, 1930, "became the popular sport of the afternoon." When the gong was sounded, the Times continued, "the members broke into a pandemonium of noise, everything in the Exchange that had noisemaking possibilities being utilized. The din could be heard as far away as Broadway."     The "Little Bull Market" continued through the spring, bringing forth all manner of brave statements. In May, Secretary of Commerce William Doak allowed as how "normal business conditions should be restored in two or three months," and in June, when a group of clergy arrived at the White House with some suggestions on how the government should respond to the depression, Hoover told them, "Gentlemen, you have come six weeks too late." Writing in the elegant June 1930 issue of the brand-new Fortune magazine--just the fifth number in Henry Luce's attempt to give business America its own flagship publication--analyst Merryle Stanley Rukeyser gave Hoover high marks: "I am one of those who think that the engineer in the White House made a magnificent gesture to stem psychological panic and to demonstrate that the human will could be an effective contributing cause in shaping the course of the business cycle."     Six months later, Fortune cheerily announced that "the year 1930 ... left behind it impressive monuments to U.S. industrial confidence"--RCA Victor's new radio manufacturing plant in Camden, New Jersey, for example, built at a cost of $5.5 million that year; or Continental Can Company's brand-new $1.25 million plant in Oakland, California; or the huge, new $30 million complex built by Allied Chemical & Dye in Hopewell, Virginia; or the $2 million plant for the manufacture of mechanical rubber goods put up in Passaic, New Jersey, by U.S. Rubber. And there was much, much more, Fortune promised: "To compute the total construction investment of U.S. industry in 1930 would be a mathematical undertaking of colossal complexity and of small importance. The enormous total could be set down on paper. The important, the significant fact is that these buildings now stand and project themselves into the solvent decades of the future as monuments and implements of the age."     In spite of all the optimism from nearly every quarter, however, one wonders whether the business community truly believed its own rhetoric. Some corporations did attempt to hold wage levels and increase investment, but most paid little more than lip service to the promises they had made to Hoover, even when they had the resources to do so. This was especially true of investments. Between the end of 1929 and the end of 1930, in fact, gross domestic investment by the private sector declined from $35 billion to $23.6 billion and would fall to a low of $3.9 billion by the end of 1932--a drop of more than 88.6 percent in just three years. Investment in producers' durable equipment and nonresidential construction--which meant business and industrial plant construction, for the most part--dropped from $23.3 billion in 1929 to $19.2 billion in 1930, and all the way down to $10.1 billion in 1932. Even Henry Ford's vaunted $7-a-day promise was not everything it seemed. First, he did not even put it into effect until 1931; second, to hold that wage level he had to fire thousands of his own workers, then subcontract much of Ford's work out to independent companies that paid as little as 12.5 cents an hour.     Industrial America could hardly be blamed for hedging its bets. Except for those few brief months of optimism on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, there was not that much to cheer about. Earnings for the first quarter of 1930 told much of the story. Two hundred companies surveyed by the National City Bank had earned $362 million in the first quarter of 1929; in 1930, the figure was $293.3 million, an average decline of about 19 percent. The hardest hit was the automotive industry, where 34 companies showed an overall slide of 40 percent. General Motors fell from $61.9 million to $44.9 million, and Hudson from $4.5 million to $2.1 million. Railroad profits were cut anywhere from 12 percent (Boston & Maine) to a horrific 84 percent (Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific). The only major corporations that actually increased profits significantly in 1930 were those in the fields of advertising, radio, and motion pictures (and their day of reckoning would come). Given the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars had been invested and lost in the stock market during the weeks of the great panic--much of this money carved out of 1929's superb profit figures--and the fact that the decline in overall profits would keep on plunging after the first quarter of 1930 until for many companies they sank clear through the bottom of the statistical page into the realm where deficits lay, the average businessman or private investor no longer had that much money on hand to invest--and those who did have it were suddenly reluctant to part with it. There would be even less on hand as the months of disaster rolled on, one after the other, each month adding to a gray pyramid of statistics no one could have imagined and few wanted to believe. Not Hoover, not the business community, not anyone. HOWEVER STUBBORNLY THE nation's sundry leaders tried to defy reality by sending up increasingly gaseous balloons of optimism, what happened to the financial structure of this country between the early winter of 1929 and the summer of 1933 was nothing less than the single worst recession in the economic history of the United States. Both the speed and character of the decline had never been experienced before and have not since.     Consider the banking industry. Previous to World War I, bank failures were relatively uncommon affairs; between 1865 and 1920, there had been only 3,108 banks whose operations had been suspended--and 326 of those had closed during the terrible panic of 1893. But between the end of 1920 and the end of 1929, an average of 635 banks had failed every year , 976 in the boom year of 1926 alone, with a total loss that year of $1.6 billion in deposits (nearly $15 billion in 1998 dollars). If those numbers suggested a certain instability in the banking system throughout the boom years of the twenties--poor regulation, incompetent management, thoughtless investment in the California and Florida real estate booms, an increasing infatuation with the seductions of the broker's-loan market come to mind--that deduction was given even more validity in 1930. That year, the number of failures shot up to 1,352--256 of them in the single month of November, and even more on December 11, when the United States Bank, with deposits of more than $200 million, went under.     "It was a terrible time," one depositor remembered of the day the United States Bank closed. "You felt as though the bottom had dropped out of your life, and I guess the thing that bothered me most was the fact that there had been no notice.... [Many] people felt that one reason the other banks didn't want to [help] was because that was a minority bank--it was owned by and run by Jewish stockholders and a Jewish president." There was reason to speculate along such lines. When the New York State superintendent of banks proposed that the House of Morgan take the United States Bank under its wing in order to save it--a service the nearly impregnable firm had provided other banks in trouble--his appeal was rejected, quite possibly because, as Morgan partner Russell Leffingwell described the firm, it was "an uptown bank with many branches and a large clientele among our Jewish population of small merchants, and persons of small means and small education."     Whether class prejudice and genteel anti-Semitism prevented the rescue of the United States Bank or not, its subsequent collapse was at the time the largest single bank failure in American history, bringing a certain drama to the situation. Congress passed joint resolutions, held hearings, debated legislation. "In the meantime," C. D. Bremer, a Columbia University professor of economics, wrote in 1935, "while our financial soothsayers continued to deliver themselves of their Delphic oracles, failures were rapidly increasing." In all, $3.26 billion in deposits had been lost in just three years.     "Since 1930," a British visitor to the United States wrote in 1932, the most despised and detested group of men in the Union is the bankers.... A story has been going the rounds to the effect that a certain lady, distressed to know that her daughter was about to become the mother of a fatherless infant, was told that its parentage had been accepted by a banker. She at once refused to admit any such acknowledgment. "Rather a bastard than a banker," she declared, with a spirit in which the voice of the nation is audible. If bankers had earned a special niche in the disregard of most Americans, however, the statistical epidemic ran just as swiftly through the rest of the business community in the years of havoc. The 1,372 bank failures of 1930 represented only a fraction of the 26,355 businesses that collapsed that year, and the rate of 122 failures per 10,000 businesses was the highest in history. Then the rate jumped to 133 in 1931, with 28,285 failures, and to 154 in 1932 with 31,822 failures--numbers that have yet to be equaled. Altogether, the number of businesses in the country dropped from a total of 2.2 million in 1929 to 1.9 million by 1933. The combined deficit of American corporations was $5.64 billion in 1932. In agriculture, the parity index--the prices farmers received for the products they sold, as compared to the prices they had to pay for everything they needed--fell from 89, already a negative figure, to 55. The value of farm property declined from $57.7 million in 1929 to $36.2 million in 1933. Unemployment, estimated at 1.5 million in 1929, rose to 4.3 million in 1930, 8 million in 1931, 12 million in 1932, 12.8 million in 1933--24.9 percent of the civilian labor force. Wages in the manufacturing sector dropped from $16 billion in 1929 to less than $7.7 billion in 1932, and in all industries from $50.4 billion to $30 billion. Per capita income, adjusted for inflation, fell from $681 in 1929 to $495 in 1933, and at one point 28 percent of the population--34 million people--had no income at all. The gross national product plunged from $104 billion in 1929 to $41 billion in 1933.     In some cities and regions the situation for workers was a good deal worse than even the national averages suggested. As early as February 1930, the state of Oregon had already reached 25 percent unemployment, according to the state labor commissioner--three years before the nation as a whole achieved that pinnacle. In Jefferson County, Alabama, there were about 108,000 salaried workers. "Of that number," Congressman George Huddleston told a congressional committee in January 1932, "it is my belief that not exceeding 8,000 have their normal incomes. At least 25,000 men are altogether without work. Some of them have not had a stroke of work for more than twelve months, maybe 60,000 or 75,000 are working from one to five days a week, and practically all have had serious cuts in their wages and many of them do not average over $1.50 a day."     Two months earlier, it had been even more grim in Detroit, where more than 30 percent of the labor force--223,000 people--were without work; and a little over a year later, the figures had gone up to 50 percent and 350,000, respectively. Chicago was not much better off; about 624,000 people were unemployed in October 1931--40 percent of the labor force. In Colorado, the State Federation of Labor estimated that some 90 percent of the state's workers were getting less than three days of work a week and that 50 percent "or more are not working even part-time." In West Virginia, coal production--the state's biggest industry--dropped from 145.1 million tons in 1927 to 83.2 million tons in 1932; more than half of all the mines in the state had closed, throwing so many people out of work that more than 135,000 families were said to be in a destitute condition by 1933. In Boston, between July 1931 and December 1932, unemployment averaged 29.72 percent, representing anywhere from 90,000 to 100,000 people.     And stock speculation, that magic carpet of the twenties? The "Little Bull Market" of late 1929 and early 1930 did not survive the spring. Losses among many individual stocks were as monstrous as many of their earnings had been during the "Big Bull Market" days. Consider what happened to Goldman, Sachs & Company, originators of one of the biggest of all the investment trusts. Its fate was revealed in a colloquy in June 1932 between Senator James Couzens of Michigan and Walter Sachs of Goldman, Sachs during a congressional hearing into the stock market crash: "Did Goldman, Sachs and Company organize the Goldman, Sachs Trading Corporation?" Senator Couzens asked.     "Yes, sir," Mr. Sachs replied.     "And it sold its stock to the public?"     "A portion of it. The firm invested originally in 10 percent of the entire issue for the sum of $10 million."     "And the other 90 percent was sold to the public?"     "Yes, sir."     "At what price?"     "At 104. That is the old stock ... the stock was split two for one."     "And what is the price of the stock now?"     "Approximately 1 3/4."     "It took me twenty years to figure out what happened," one victim remembered of those days. "I always figured there was some kind of logic I didn't understand. Maybe it was some kind of lack in me. 'Cause I was brought up in a middle-class family: all the privileges, the house with the servant--all of a sudden, one day it's all gone."     This individual was hardly alone, in either his misery or his mystification. For him and most others who lived through it, the misery would pass by the end of the decade, but much of the mystification remained. How was it that an economy that had been riding so high for so long could be brought so low? Who was to blame? It certainly was not their fault, the engineers of the stock market wanted everyone to know, as reporter Matthew Josephson discovered when he interviewed Richard Whitney in December 1931. "He was enthroned in the regal presidential suite on an upper floor of the Exchange," Josephson remembered, "dressed in a black cutaway, and carried himself with reserve as he spoke. I found his smile an affair of facial muscles, and his eyes cold; he was tense underneath." The stock market "would come back," Whitney insisted, "it always does." As for finding blame within the market for the debacle that followed October 1929, that was nonsense, he said. "The public," Whitney explained impatiently, "is looking for a goat."     It is true enough that the stock market crash of 1929 was not the single primary "cause" of the relentless spiral of decline that characterized the worst years of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, its role in helping to shape the dimensions of the catastrophe should not be underestimated. It not only loosed the virus of depression by imposing a trauma on the entire financial system so devastating that it was left in a state of shock, but it also accelerated the spread of economic decline. This was due to the fact that the failure of the greatest speculative fever in American history profoundly weakened confidence in the basic soundness (as politicians liked to put it) of the nation's economic foundations--its abundance of natural resources, its wealth of available labor, its demonstrated genius for industrial innovation and productivity, its pool of capital reserves, all the tangible and intangible assets that go to make up the gross national product. "If you consider the universality of the speculative mania of the later days of the last boom," banker J. M. Barker remembered in 1936, you will see how completely the people of this country, to say nothing of the world, were under the influence of the mob psychology of unreasoning, emotional cupidity. When the break came, cupidity turned into unreasoning, emotional, universal fear.... In every city of this country, business men, hard hit or already wiped out in the stock market in the earlier part of the crash, were still watching the quotations every day to see how things were going. They saw the market dropping, dropping, dropping. Is there any doubt they made their decisions from day to day under the influence of the emotional backgrounds formed by their observations of the falling security prices?     Still, the argument is frequently made that the principal significance of the crash was its role as the first dramatic symptom of an underlying weakness in the economy. Certainly, there can be no denying the weakness--illustrated perhaps most precisely by the fact that because both wage levels and agricultural income remained low for so many throughout the decade, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots grew during even the biggest boom years, until, as historian Robert McElvaine has noted, "the share of disposable income going to the top 1 percent jumped from 12 percent in 1920 to 19 percent in 1929.... This represented the highest concentration of wealth at any time in American history."     Such disparities were harmful not merely because they violated democratic ideals but because what they signified was that, at the same time industrial productivity continued to increase throughout the twenties, the pool of domestic consumers with the means available to buy all the goods and services being offered grew smaller and smaller. By 1929, some estimates have it, the excess of capacity over potential consumption had risen to an extraordinary 17 percent; in brief, 17 percent of everything that had been produced could not be sold. Indeed, during the two months before the stock market crash, production rates had begun to decline at an estimated annual average of 20 percent and inventories had begun to grow, while wholesale prices dropped at an annual rate of 7.5 percent and personal income by 5 percent. The slide, in effect, had started even before the crash. "Gosh, wasn't we crazy there for a while?" Will Rogers asked in his newspaper column in 1932. "Did the thought ever enter our bone head that the time might come when nobody would want all these things we were making?"     Some have suggested that it was not just lower relative incomes that produced the gap between capacity and consumption. After World War I, this argument goes, there was a worldwide decline in population growth among the developed nations (hardly surprising, given the millions of young men who had been slaughtered during the war, thus depleting the reproduction pool). In the United States, this resulted in a commensurate decline in the number of nonfarm households and the consequently diminishing need for nonfarm housing construction, one of the most important sectors of any nation's economy. After a tremendous spurt in suburban construction in the immediate postwar years, the amount of money invested in the construction of residences in the United States had declined from a high of $5.16 billion in 1925 to just $3.38 billion in 1929--and by the end of 1933 would fall to a devastating $435 million (while the growth rate of nonfarm households that year sank to less than one-half of one percent). "Thus the rapid and very large decline in the rate of growth of nonfarm households," economic historian Clarence L. Barber has theorized, "was clearly the major reason for the decline that occurred in residential construction in the United States from 1926 on. And this decline ... may well have been the most important single factor in turning the 1929 downturn into a major depression."     Then there was the agonizing labyrinth of monetary policy to consider, particularly as it related to foreign markets. The boom years of the twenties may have erected a comfortable facade of prosperity in the United States, but it was not mirrored in much of Europe, which remained in a recessionary bog during most of the decade. Great Britain's decision not only to return to the gold standard in 1925 but to maintain the exchange rate of $4.87 to the pound sterling was designed to pull that country out of the postwar doldrums; it turned out to be a little less beneficent than Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill had hoped when he announced that the economies of the civilized world would now "vary together, like ships in harbor whose gangways are joined and who rise and fall together with the tide." There was movement, right enough, but in Britain it was mostly downward. Maintaining the gold standard and the exchange rate at high levels simply made the country's exports too expensive for most nations to buy. That forced a drop in prices, which forced a drop in already minimal wages, which inspired all manner of labor unrest, including a long general strike that left the economy staggering through the rest of the decade and on into the years of the Great Depression.     The twenties had been kinder to France. The terrible loss of life during World War I may have caused a decline in housing construction there as elsewhere, but it also ensured that there would be relatively little unemployment. Her financial institutions, under the nearly absolute control of the Bank of France (itself under the nearly absolute control of but 200 families), had not been as deeply involved in the purchase of American stocks as those of the British (the crash, one French observer noted icily, was basically an "abscess" that had been "lanced"), nor was her economy as closely tied to industry. Nevertheless, by 1930, production had begun to decline, unemployment had begun to rise, and the French budget showed the first of an upcoming series of deficits.     Germany, of course, was an economic charnel house throughout much of the decade. It could hardly have been otherwise. Defeated in war, Germany was even more profoundly defeated by the retributive peace that followed it. Many people in Great Britain had demanded that Germany be forced to pay the entire cost of the war, estimated at some $120 billion, vowing to "squeeze Germany until the pips squeak." Ravaged Belgium tended to agree, and France was hardly more charitable. "We have been attacked," Foreign Minister Stéphen Pinchon announced, "we want security"--and the Treaty of Versailles got France the Rhineland to ensure that German industry could not recover. "We have been devastated," he added, "we want reparation"--and reparation France got, or at least the promise of it. The combination left the German economy in tatters. By 1923, inflation had so completely devalued the German mark that it took a wheelbarrel full to buy a loaf of bread, and it cost an industrial worker twenty weeks of wages to buy a suit of clothes. Only when enforced austerity and the invention of a new form of currency called the rentenmark--ostensibly backed entirely by the country's landed wealth, not by gold--were instituted by the Reichsbank at the end of 1923 did Germany's inflationary spiral slow. Nevertheless, her economy continued moribund through the rest of the decade, stirring the increasingly fetid stew of anguish, resentment, desperation, fury, and ancient prejudices that ultimately would bubble up Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.     During most of the twenties, then, it had been virtually impossible to sustain the cooperation necessary to hold the gold standard and keep the balance of payments among the various nations at rational levels--a situation that the onset of sudden recession in this country exacerbated profoundly, with consequences to all. Before the war, Britain had been the world's banker. During the war and the years that followed, that position was occupied by the United States, which doled out nearly $27 billion in foreign loans between 1914 and 1929--much of it going to Germany in the postwar years, on the theory that these loans would enable that nation to make its reparations payments to Great Britain, France, and Belgium. The reparations payments, it was supposed, would then enable the other European countries to purchase American manufactured goods and agricultural produce and repay American war loans. But with or without American loans, Germany was simply incapable of meeting the obligations the peace had imposed on her, and during a League of Nations meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1932, Germany's creditor nations finally bowed to the inevitable and reduced her indebtedness to a token of 3 billion marks (even that would never be paid).     By then, the world's economic die had long since been cast. American loans to Germany or any other nation all but ceased after the crash of 1929, which made it increasingly difficult for European countries to purchase American goods. With a shrinking market across the seas and a continuing decline in domestic consumption, American industry demanded protectionism to keep European goods from undercutting its sales in the United States. In 1930, Congress complied with the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act; its restrictive tariffs on most imported goods crippled the ability of European nations to sell what little they were able to produce, which gave them even less money with which to purchase American goods. Furthermore, as American industrial production began its long slide, the demand for raw materials from foreign sources fell commensurately, eliminating much potential additional revenue that might have gone to purchase American goods and repay American loans. The numbers speak precisely to cause and effect: between 1929 and the end of 1932, United States exports fell from $5.2 billion to $1.6 billion, and imports from $4.4 billion to $1.3 billion.     Defaults on American loans proliferated in South America, Central Europe, and Germany. British and American lending fell off to new lows. Currency devaluation accelerated. Germany was forced off the gold standard in the summer of 1931, and by the end of the year the British pound sterling had declined so markedly that even Great Britain finally abandoned its desperate efforts to stay with gold. The Scandinavian countries and the Dominion nations quickly followed suit. Fearing that the United States would do the same, many foreign interests that had not already done so began pulling their money from American banks, lowering American gold reserves, putting even greater pressure on an already tottering banking system, and giving an altogether stark validity to an observation made by British economist John Maynard Keynes in December 1932: "The course of exchange, as we all know, moves round a closed circle. When we transmit the tension, which is beyond our own endurance, to our neighbour, it is only a question of a little time before it reaches ourselves again traveling round the circle." Copyright (c) 1999 T. H. Watkins. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xi
Prelude: Careening Down Main Street, 1929p. 3
Part I In the Crucible
1. Boundaries of Havocp. 37
2. The Graveyard of Hopep. 53
3. The Dance of Self-Reliancep. 73
4. "The Long Slow-Match of Destiny"p. 104
5. Making Ashes of Loyaltyp. 131
Part II Holding Up the Walls
6. The Present Instrument of Their Wishesp. 145
7. A Scuffling Pageant of Reliefp. 157
8. The Scream of the Eaglep. 184
9. "The President Wants You to Organize!"p. 210
10. Freedom's Firep. 224
11. The Machinery of Pridep. 242
12. Another Form of Hungerp. 273
13. The Lions of Laborp. 295
Part III The Ploughland Curve
14. Revolt in the Heartlandp. 339
15. Further Down the Countryp. 363
16. Huelga!p. 392
17. An Evil in the Seasonp. 421
18. A Perfect Laboratoryp. 460
Postlude: Dismantling the Dream, 1939p. 489
A Note on Statistics and Moneyp. 521
Sourcesp. 523
Acknowledgmentsp. 557
Indexp. 559