History Of Bank Runs

The Credit-Anstalt crisis played a crucial role in the dramatic economic developments of the 1930s in Europe as the collapse of the Credit-Anstalt affected the largest bank of Austria and at that time also the largest bank east of Germany. The collapse of the Credit-Anstalt in Vienna started the spread of the crisis in Europe and forced most countries off the Gold Standard within a few months. A feeling of financial distrust and insecurity spread from Vienna and led to runs on other banks in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and Germany. The collapse in May 1931 set off a chain reaction that led from the run on German banks to withdrawals in London and the devaluation of the pound to large-scale withdrawals from New York and another series of bank failures in the United States. So in brief the news of the crisis of the Credit-Anstalt, the most important bank in Central Europe, shook the whole economic structure of Europe and sent shock waves through the rest of the world. 

Banking panics and monetary contraction. Between 1930 and 1932 the United States experienced four extended banking panics, during which large numbers of bank customers, fearful of their bank’s solvency, simultaneously attempted to withdraw their deposits in cash. Ironically, the frequent effect of a banking panic is to bring about the very crisis that panicked customers aim to protect themselves against: even financially healthy banks can be ruined by a large panic. By 1933 one-fifth of the banks in existence in 1930 had failed, leading the new Franklin D. Roosevelt administration to declare a four-day “bank holiday” (later extended by three days), during which all of the country’s banks remained closed until they could prove their solvency to government inspectors. The natural consequence of widespread bank failures was to decrease consumer spending and business investment, because there were fewer banks to lend money. There was also less money to lend, partly because people were hoarding it in the form of cash. According to some scholars, that problem was exacerbated by the Federal Reserve, which raised interest rates (further depressing lending) and deliberately reduced the money supply in the belief that doing so was necessary to maintain the gold standard(see below), by which the U.S. and many other countries had tied the value of their currencies to a fixed amount of gold. The reduced money supply in turn reduced prices, which further discouraged lending and investment (because people feared that future wages and profitswould not be sufficient to cover loan payments).

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