September 2011

Credit Availability and the Collapse of the Banking Sector in the 1930s

Mark A. Carlson and Jonathan D. Rose


This paper examines the mechanism through which banking sector distress affects the availability of credit. We use the experience of the United States during the Great Depression, a period of intense bank distress, to conduct our analysis. We utilize previously neglected data from a 1934 survey conducted by the Federal Reserve System of both banks and Chambers of Commerce regarding the availability of credit, and examine which aspects of the banking system collapse affected credit availability as indicated by the survey. A number of scholars have posited different ways that bank distress constrained credit availability and impacted economic activity during the 1930s; however, the empirical evidence regarding these channels is modest. In this study, we find that bank failures had the most dominant impact, but there is also some evidence for the importance of funding constraints from deposit outflows and of protracted deposit liquidation.

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Keywords: Great Depression, credit intermediation, distressed banks, credit availability

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Last Update: July 10, 2020