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High School Inflation Worries During the Great Depression

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Published on Jun 28, 2011

New York City radio commentator Jean Shepherd humorously recalled being shown a movie while at Hammond High School (Hammond, Indiana) about the dangers of inflation during the Great Depression. (Broadcast of June 29, 1973, WOR.) He graduated from high school in 1939 and 16mm sound projectors became available for such showings in the mid-1930s. So he must have seen the film in the late 1930s. The concerns about inflation in that period seem strange, given the fact that prices were 18% lower in 1940 than they were in 1929 (using the Cost-of-Living index of that era) and unemployment was the major economic problem of the day. Most of the price drop came during 1929-32. Prices never rose as much as 4% per annum thereafter and generally fell again during the period when Shepherd probably saw the film. It wasn't just high schoolers who were worried about inflation. The same concerns were shared at the Federal Reserve and may have contributed to the length of the Depression. There seems to be a similar phenomenon at work today in the aftermath of the Great Recession. At the time of the broadcast, anti-inflation wage-price controls under the Nixon administration were undergoing periodic tightening and relaxations.

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