NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Recovery from the Great Depression: The Farm Channel in Spring 1933

Joshua K. Hausman, Paul W. Rhode, Johannes F. Wieland

NBER Working Paper No. 23172
Issued in February 2017
NBER Program(s):DAE, EFG, IFM, ME

In the four months following the trough of the Great Depression in March 1933, industrial production rose 57 percent. We argue that an important source of recovery was the direct effect of dollar devaluation on farm prices, incomes, and consumption. We call this the farm channel. Using daily spot and futures crop price data, we document that devaluation raised prices of traded crops and their close substitutes (other grains). And using novel state and county auto sales data, we document that recovery proceeded much more rapidly in farm areas. These cross-sectional effects are large, explain a substantial fraction of cross-state variation in auto sales growth, and are concentrated in areas growing traded crops or close substitutes. We also find that given the same exposure to farm price changes, spending rose more in counties with more farm debt. We aggregate our cross-sectional results using a simple incomplete markets model in which indebted farmers have high MPCs. It implies that the farm channel accounts for 30% or more of the spring recovery.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23172

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