Analytical models are presented for currents along vertical magnetic field lines due to slow bulk electron motion in plasmas subject to a gravitational force. It is demonstrated that a general feature of this problem is a singularity in the plasma pressure force that develops at some finite altitude when a plasma that is initially in static equilibrium is set into slow motion. Classical fluid models thus do not allow general steady-state solutions for field-aligned currents. General solutions have to be non-stationary, varying on time scales of many periods of a plasma equivalent to the Brunt–Väisälä frequency. Except for very special choices of parameters, a steady-state solution exists only in an average sense. The conditions at large altitudes turn out to be extremely sensitive to even small changes in parameters at low altitudes. Low frequency fluctuations detected at large altitudes in the polar regions need not be caused by local low frequency instabilities, but merely reflect small fluctuations in conditions at low altitudes.