The Tuesday Podcast: Inside The Great Depression

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Benjamin Roth

Benjamin Roth Courtesy of The Roth Family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of The Roth Family

On today's Planet Money, we hear the words of ordinary man — Benjamin Roth, a lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio — trying to come to grips with the Great Depression.

August 7, 1931

Business is at an absolute standstill and the big stores are deserted even tho' they are all running sales and almost giving the merchandise away. Since the Home Savings & Loan Co. and other loan companies stopped paying out, nobody has any money and everybody seems scared and blue. We seem to have touched bottom in Youngstown and it hardly seems possible that things could get worse.

This is from Roth's diary — which his son Daniel, along with the finance journalist James Ledbetter, turned into a book a few years back. Daniel joins us on the show today, to read from the diary and tell us the back story.

Roth wades into global finance to try to understand what's going on around him. But he's wary of abandoning the gold standard to alleviate what he calls the "scarcity of money."

Sept. 13, 1931

We bought peaches yesterday at 75c a bushel. The trees are still loaded to the ground and will go to waste because the fruit can not be sold. In the meanwhile, thousands are starving. It is hard to understand. There is no sign of a pick-up this fall. If anything things are worse. There is simply no money in circulation. This scarcity of money is what makes people think if more money were printed business would be better. This is a false and vicious theory.

The diaries go through 1941, and Roth — who is skeptical of FDR and the New Deal — is never convinced that abandoning gold was the right thing to do.

For more: Listen to our podcast "Gold Standard, R.I.P."

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