April 2, 1997
The Causes and Effects of
The Great Depression In America
Few Americans in the first months of 1929 saw any reason to question the strength and stability of the nation's economy. Most agreed with their new president that the booming prosperity of the years just past would not only continue but increase, and that dramatic social progress would follow in its wake. "We in America today," Herbert Hoover had proclaimed in August 1928, "are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us."1
In mid-October, 1929, the average middle-class American saw ahead of him an illimitable vista of prosperity. The newly inaugurated president, Herbert Hoover, had announced soberly in the previous year that the conquest of poverty was no longer a mirage: "We have not yet reached our goal, but given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, and we shall soon with the help of God be within sight of the day when poverty will be banished from the nation."
This was the economic promise interwoven with what a popular historian would call the American Dream. More complacently, Irving Fisher and other economists in the confidence of Wall Street assured the citizen that he was dwelling upon "a permanently high plateau" of prosperity.2
Only fifteen months later, those words would return to haunt him, as the nation plunged into the severest and most prolonged economic depression in its history. It began with a stock market crash in October 1929; it slowly but steadily deepened over the next three years until the nation's economy (and, many believed, its social and political systems) approached a total collapse. It continued in one form or another for a full...