Great Depression
The Great Depression was the worst economic slump ever in U.S. history, and one
that spread to virtually the entire industrialized world. The depression began
in late 1929 and lasted for about a decade. Many factors played a role in
bringing about the depression; however, the main cause for the Great Depression
was the combination of the greatly unequal distribution of wealth throughout the

1920\'s, and the extensive stock market speculation that took place during the
latter part that same decade. The misdistribution of wealth in the 1920\'s
existed on many levels. Money was distributed disparately between the rich and
the middle-class, between industry and agriculture within the United States, and
between the U.S. and Europe. This imbalance of wealth created an unstable
economy. The excessive speculation in the late 1920\'s kept the stock market
artificially high, but eventually lead to large market crashes. These market
crashes, combined with the misdistribution of wealth, caused the American
economy to capsize. The "roaring twenties" was an era when our country
prospered tremendously. The nation\'s total realized income rose from $74.3
billion in 1923 to $89 billion in 1929. However, the rewards of the
"Coolidge Prosperity" of the 1920\'s were not shared evenly among all

Americans. According to a study done by the Brookings Institute, in 1929 the top

0.1% of Americans had a combined income equal to the bottom 42%. That same top

0.1% of Americans in 1929 controlled 34% of all savings, while 80% of Americans
had no savings at all. Automotive industry mogul Henry Ford provides a striking
example of the unequal distribution of wealth between the rich and the
middle-class. Henry Ford reported a personal income of $14 million in the same
year that the average personal income was $7505. By present day standards, where
the average yearly income in the U.S. is around $18,5006, Mr. Ford would be
earning over $345 million a year. This misdistribution of income between the
rich and the middle class grew throughout the 1920\'s. While the disposable
income per capita rose 9% from 1920 to 1929, those with income within the top 1%
enjoyed a stupendous 75% increase in per capita disposable income. A major
reason for this large and growing gap between the rich and the working-class
people was the increased manufacturing output throughout this period. From

1923-1929 the average output per worker increased 32% in manufacturing. During
that same period of time average wages for manufacturing jobs increased only 8%.

Thus wages increased at a rate one fourth as fast as productivity increased. As
production costs fell quickly, wages rose slowly, and prices remained constant,
the bulk benefit of the increased productivity went into corporate profits. In
fact, from 1923-1929 corporate profits rose 62% and dividends rose 65%. The
federal government also contributed to the growing gap between the rich and
middle-class. Calvin Coolidge\'s administration (and the conservative-controlled
government) favored business, and as a result the wealthy who invested in these
businesses. An example of legislation to this purpose is the Revenue Act of

1926, signed by President Coolidge on February 26, 1926, which reduced federal
income and inheritance taxes dramatically. Andrew Mellon, Coolidge\'s Secretary
of the Treasury, was the main force behind these and other tax cuts throughout
the 1920\'s. In effect, he was able to lower federal taxes such that a man with a
million-dollar annual income had his federal taxes reduced from $600,000 to
$200,000. Even the Supreme Court played a role in expanding the gap between the
socioeconomic classes. In the 1923 case Adkins v. Children\'s Hospital, the

Supreme Court ruled minimum-wage legislation unconstitutional. One obvious
solution to the problem of the vast majority of the population not having enough
money to satisfy all their needs was to let those who wanted goods buy products
on credit. The concept of buying now and paying later caught on quickly. The end
of the 1920ís bought 60% of cars and 80% of radios on installment credit.

Between 1925 and 1929 the total amount of outstanding installment credit more
than doubled from $1.38 billion to around $3 billion. Installment credit allowed
one to "telescope the future into the present", as the President\'s

Committee on Social Trends noted. This strategy created artificial demand for
products that people could not ordinarily afford. It put off the day of
reckoning, but it made the downfall worse when it came. By telescoping the
future into the present, when "the future" arrived, there was little
to buy that hadn\'t already been bought. In addition, people could not longer use
their regular wages to purchase whatever items they didn\'t have yet, because so
much of the wages went