THE GREAT DEPRESSION RECONSIDERED: IMPLICATIONS FOR TODAY
WILLIAM MCDONALD WALLACE
This paper reexamines the Great Depression of 1929-1933 within an analytical framework based on the terms of employment for labor. It shows that in areas such as the U.S. farm and Japanese industrial sectors where labor was employed organically-that is, as partners in common enterprise-costs proved flexible, prices fell, and output and employment held up in line with the predictions of Say's Law. Where labor was not employed organically-that is, labor was hired-output collapsed, unemployment mounted, and Say's Law failed. The apparent reason is that any hired input, capital or labor, demands downwardly rigid rates of pay. When demand softens, cost rigidity constrains price cuts, and firms must instead lay off labor. The paper also shows that given organic labor, even oligopolistic rivalry is sufficient to assure that prices will fall enough to sustain output and employment. Copyright 1995 Western Economic Association International.
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