Joshua K. Hausman: Fiscal Policy and Economic Recovery: The Case of the 1936 Veterans' Bonus: Noted for August 3, 2013
Joshua K. Hausman: Fiscal Policy and Economic Recovery: The Case of the 1936 Veterans' Bonus:
Conventional wisdom has it that in the 1930s fiscal policy did not work because it was not tried. This paper shows that fiscal policy, though inadvertent, was tried in 1936, and a variety of evidence suggests that it worked. A deficit-financed veterans' bonus provided 3.2 million World War I veterans with cash and bond payments totaling 2 percent of GDP; the typical veteran received a payment equal to annual per capita personal income. This paper uses time-series and cross-sectional data to identify the effects of the bonus. I exploit four sources of quantitative evidence: a detailed household consumption survey, cross-state and cross-city regressions, aggregate time-series, and a previously unused American Legion survey of veterans. The evidence paints a consistent picture in which veterans quickly spent the majority of their bonus. Spending was concentrated on cars and housing in particular. Narrative accounts support these quantitative results. A simple calculation suggests that the bonus added 2.5 to 3 percentage points to 1936 GDP growth.