Relief During the Great Depression in Australia and America


  • Price V. Fishback

    1. University of Arizona
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    • This written version of the Noel G. Butlin lecture provides substantially more information on Australia than the public lecture given at the Asia Pacific Economic and Business History (APEBH) meetings in Canberra, Australia, 20 February 2012. I offer special thanks to Tim Hatton for inviting me to Australia to visit the Australian National University and to attend the APEBH meetings. I thank the ANU and the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand for providing funding for my trip. In developing the public lecture and this written version, I benefitted greatly from discussions with Alison Booth, Pierre Van der Eng, Bob Gregory, Tim Hatton, Trevor Kollmann, Martine Mariotti, Warwick McKibbon, Stephen Morgan, Les Oxley, Martin Shanahan, Jeroen Touwen, and John Wang. The research on the New Deal received the support of the University of Arizona and US National Science Foundation grants SES-0921732, SES-0617972, SES-0214483, SES-0080324, and SBR-9708098. All opinions expressed are my own and should not be seen as representing the views of the National Science Foundation or the University of Arizona. Any errors are my own.


I compare and contrast relief efforts by governments in response to the extraordinary unemployment of the Great Depression in the US and Australia. The effectiveness of relief spending in America at the local level is discussed using recent studies estimating the relationship between relief spending and various demographic measures. I develop a new panel data set for the Australian states from 1929 through 1939. Increased income in manufacturing and rural production were associated with lower infant mortality rates and death rates and higher fertility rates. In contrast to the US experience, however, higher per capita relief spending was associated with lower birth rates.