Agriculture in the 1929 crisis

By Gérard Béaur

The 1929 crisis was also an agricultural downturn whose magnitude has not been ignored by historians, but whose link with the depression that overwhelmed all economic sectors remains problematic. Should it be considered as a marginal and separate phenomenon that merely accompanied the broader crisis, or should we think that it had a decisive effect on the emergence of the Great Depression in the 1930s? The debate has not been avoided, especially in the English-language literature, but it has remained unsettled. It came to the fore again with the recent contribution of Joseph Stiglitz who, in a bold parallel with the 2008 crisis, attributed responsibility for the 1929 crisis to agriculture. The ambition of this paper is by no means to close this chapter, but to retrace the thread of this history and refocus this very complex issue on the setbacks suffered by farmers. The aim is to exploit the rich US statistics and to compare them with those found in British, French and Italian archives, in order to analyse the mechanisms whereby the profound malaise affecting farmers in the run-up to 1929 may have degenerated into a general crisis, or whereby which it may have amplified the latter during the 1930s.

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