NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Contagion During the Initial Banking Panic of the Great Depression

Erik Heitfield, Gary Richardson, Shirley Wang

NBER Working Paper No. 23629
Issued in July 2017
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

The initial banking crisis of the Great Depression has been the subject of debate. Some scholars believe a contagious panic spread among financial institutions. Others argue that suspensions surged because fundamentals, such as losses on loans, drove banks out of business. This paper nests those hypotheses in a single econometric framework, a Bayesian hazard rate model with spatial and network effects. New data on correspondent networks and bank locations enables us to determine which hypothesis fits the data best. The best fitting models are ones incorporating network and geographic effects. The results are consistent with the description of events by depression-era bankers, regulators, and newspapers. Contagion - both interbank and spatial - propelled a panic which healthy banks survived but which forced illiquid and insolvent banks out of operations.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23629

 
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