Does Capitalist Production Have a Long Cycle? (pt 10)

The coming of World War II and the end of the Great Depression

According to the conventional wisdom, it was World War II that brought the Depression to an end. At least as far the United States is concerned, it is indeed true that it was the war mobilization that finally ended the mass unemployment that had existed since the fall of 1929.

Mass unemployment that was lingering in the United States as late as 1941 gave way to the “war prosperity” that the United States enjoyed during World War II. As far as many, perhaps most, Americans were concerned—the exception being those who faced actual combat—the wartime shortages and rationing, and even the rigors of military service, were a relief from the chronic idleness and hopelessness that had marked the Depression years.

Lives and careers that had been put on hold through the Depression decade could finally get back on track. People who had not been able to get any meaningful job during the 1930s could finally get jobs, get married, and start to raise families. This is the reason why the United States experienced a baby boom when the war ended.

As I have explained in earlier posts, a full-scale war economy is very different than the boom phase of the industrial cycle, even if both a boom and a war economy reduce or eliminate unemployment. The shift of the United States to an all-out war economy starting in 1942 implied a net consumption of the value of capital in the United States rather than the accumulation of capital that occurs during the boom phase of the industrial cycle.

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