An EconTalk Podcast Listening Guide

Robert Higgs on the Great Depression

Listen to the EconTalk podcast Robert Higgs on the Great Depression and consider these questions.

1. The popular view of economic history is that World War II finally pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. Higgs describes three “facts” that are taken for granted in this analysis, yet are incorrect. What are they, and to what extent do you agree that conventional wisdom has gotten them wrong?

2. What does Higgs list as the reasons for the expansion in the U.S. economy during World War II?

3. Higgs suggests that Americans’ standards of living during the war were in fact lower than the data suggest, and that part of the difficulty in analyzing wartime productivity is in the way we measure productivity, particularly GDP. Describe the problems Higgs sees with using GDP as a measure of output.

4. Interviewer Roberts asks Higgs what accounts for the extreme length of the Great Depression, which Roberts refers to as the “Great Duration”. What answers does Higgs offer?

5. What evidence does Higgs offer that his explanation of the length and severity of the Great Depression cannot be considered an ex-post narrative?

6. Higgs discussed the importance of “regime uncertainty” in the U.S. economy in the ’30s. What parallels may be found in the U.S. economy of today? To what extent are you convinced of the explanatory power of the concept of regime uncertainty?

7. What other productive research questions about this period does Higgs suggest merit further study?