History professor Scott Nelson injected historical perspective last week to rampant comparisons of the current U.S. fiscal crisis to the “Great Depression.” His article, “The depression of 1929 is the wrong model for the current economic crisis” published online in the Chronicle of Higher Education, became the publication’s second most emailed story for that week. As the week progressed other publications picked-up the story – everywhere from around the corner in the Daily Press to up the coast in the New York Times' blog, "City Room;" to across the border in Canada’s Globe and Mail to around the globe in La Republica.
Nelson was one of several experts from the faculty quoted by the press on the crisis story. Comments from John Merrick, Richard S. Reynolds associate professor of business appeared twice in recent weeks in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, once on the front page; John Boschen, Brinkley-Mason professor, Mason School of Business was quoted in the Virginia Gazette and Deborah Hewitt, was interviewed by WRIC Channel 8.
For the past two years Nelson has been studying the economy of the late 19th Century for an upcoming book. He noted it was the Panic of 1873, not the Great Depression, which could provide real lessons in dealing with the current crisis.
"When commentators invoke 1929, I am dubious,” he wrote. According to most historians and economists, that depression had more to do with overlarge factory inventories, a stock-market crash, and Germany's inability to pay back war debts, which then led to continuing strain on British gold reserves. None of those factors is really an issue now... In fact, the current economic woes look a lot like what my 96-year-old grandmother still calls "the real Great Depression...That crash came in 1873 and lasted more than four years."
In addition to lending their expertise to the press, several faculty members are participating in a forum discussing the financial crisis on Wed., Oct. 15, 2008. Merrick and Boschen will be joined on the panel by Eric Kades, vice dean, William and Mary Law School and Till Schreiber, assistant professor of economics, College of William and Mary. Richard Ash, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and private equity at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary will serve as moderator. The event, scheduled for 6 p.m. in the auditorium at the William and Mary office of admission, will be video streamed live on the web at http://www.wm.edu/forum.