When Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression first appeared in print in 1963, the economics profession was still completely dominated by the Keynesian Revolution that began in the 1930s. Rothbard, instead, employed the ‘Austrian’ approach to money and the business cycle to explain the causes for the Great Depression, and to analyze the misguided and counterproductive policies that were followed in the early 1930s, which, in fact, only intensified and prolonged the economic downturn.
To many of the economists in the early 1960s, Rothbard’s ‘Austrian’ approach seemed out-of-step with the then generally accepted textbook, macroeconomic approach that focused on a highly ‘aggregate’ analysis of economic changes and fluctuations on general output and employment as a whole. There was also the widely held presumption that governments could easily maintain economy-wide growth and stability through the use of a variety of monetary and fiscal policy tools.
Mises, Hayek and the Austrian Theory of Money and the Business Cycle However, in the early and middle years of the 1930s, the Austrian explanation of the Great Depression was at the forefront of the theoretical and policy debates of the time. Ludwig von Mises (1881 – 1973), first developed this ‘Austrian’ theory of the causes of inflations and depressions in his book, The Theory of Money and Credit(1912; 2nd revised ed., 1924) and then in his monograph, Monetary Stabilization and Cyclical Policy (1928).
But its international recognition and role in the business cycle debates and controversies in the 1930s were particularly due to Friedrich A. Hayek’s (1899 – 1992) version of the theory as presented in his works, Prices and Production (1932) Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle (1933), and Profits, Interest and Investment (1939). A professor of economics at the London School of Economics throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Hayek was, at the time, considered by many to be the main competitor against John Maynard Keynes’s ‘New Economics’ that emerged out of Keynes’s 1936 book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.
This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on 12/19/2017.