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The business cycle, also known as the economic cycle or trade cycle, is the downward and upward movement of gross domestic product (GDP) around its long-term growth trend.[1] The length of a business cycle is the period of time containing a single boom and contraction in sequence. These fluctuations typically involve shifts over time between periods of relatively rapid economic growth (expansions or booms) and periods of relative stagnation or decline (contractions or recessions).

Business cycles are usually measured by considering the growth rate of real gross domestic product. Despite the often-applied term cycles, these fluctuations in economic activity do not exhibit uniform or predictable periodicity. The common or popular usage boom-and-bust cycle refers to fluctuations in which the expansion is rapid and the contraction severe.[2]

The current view of mainstream economics is that business cycles are essentially the summation of purely random shocks to the economy and thus are not, in fact, cycles, despite appearing to be so. However, certain heterodox schools propose alternative theories suggesting that cycles do in fact exist due to endogenous causes.[3]

History

Theory

Parts of a business cycle
Phases of the business cycle
Actual business cycle
Long term growth of GDP

The first systematic exposition of economic crises, in opposition to the existing theory of economic equilibrium, was the 1819 Nouveaux Principes d'économie politique by Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi.[4] Prior to that point classical economics had either

The business cycle, also known as the economic cycle or trade cycle, is the downward and upward movement of gross domestic product (GDP) around its long-term growth trend.[1] The length of a business cycle is the period of time containing a single boom and contraction in sequence. These fluctuations typically involve shifts over time between periods of relatively rapid economic growth (expansions or booms) and periods of relative stagnation or decline (contractions or recessions).

Business cycles are usually measured by considering the growth rate of real gross domestic product. Despite the often-applied term cycles, these fluctuations in economic activity do not exhibit uniform or predictable periodicity. The common or popular usage boom-and-bust cycle refers to fluctuations in which the expansion is rapid and the contraction severe.[2]

The current view of mainstream economics is that business cycles are essentially the summation of purely random shocks to the economy and thus are not, in fact, cycles, despite appearing to be so. However, certain heterodox schools propose alternative theories suggesting that cycles do in fact exist due to endogenous causes.[3]

History

Theory

Business cycles are a type of fluctuation found in the aggregate economic activity of nations that organize their work mainly in business enterprises: a cycle consists of expansions occurring at about the same time in many economic activities, followed by similarly general recessions, contractions, and revivals which merge into the expansion phase of the next cycle; in duration, business cycles vary from more than one year to ten or twelve years; they are not divisible into shorter cycles of similar characteristics with amplitudes approximating their own.

According to A. F. Burns:[25]

Business cycles are not merely fluctuations in aggregate economic activity. The critical feature that distinguishes them from the commercial convulsions of earlier centuries or from the seasonal and other short term variations of our own age is that the fluctuations are widely diffused over the economy

Business cycles are a type of fluctuation found in the aggregate economic activity of nations that organize their work mainly in business enterprises: a cycle consists of expansions occurring at about the same time in many economic activities, followed by similarly general recessions, contractions, and revivals which merge into the expansion phase of the next cycle; in duration, business cycles vary from more than one year to ten or twelve years; they are not divisible into shorter cycles of similar characteristics with amplitudes approximating their own.

According to A. F. Burns:[25]

Business cycles are not merely fluctuat

According to A. F. Burns:[25]

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the final arbiter of the dates of the peaks and troughs of the business cycle. An expansion is the period from a trough to a peak and a recession as the period from a peak to a trough. The NBER identifies a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production".[26]

There is often a close timing relationship between the upper turning points of the business cycle, commodity prices and freight rates, which is shown to be particularly tight in the grand peak years of 1873, 1889, 1900 and 1912.[27]

Spectral analysis of business cycles

Recent research employing spectral analysis has confirmed the presence of Kondratiev wav

Recent research employing spectral analysis has confirmed the presence of Kondratiev waves in the world GDP dynamics at an acceptable level of statistical significance.[28] Korotayev & Tsirel also detected shorter business cycles, dating the Kuznets to about 17 years and calling it the third sub-harmonic of the Kondratiev, meaning that there are three Kuznets cycles per Kondratiev.[jargon]

Recurrence quantification analysis

Recurrence quantification analysis has been employed to detect the characteristic of business cycles and economic development. To this end, Orlando et al.[29] developed the so-called recurrence quantification correlation index to test correlations of RQA on a sample signal and then investigated the application to business time series. The said index has been proven to detect hidden changes in time series. Further, Orlando et al. [30], over an extensive dataset, shown that recurrence quantification analysis may help in anticipating transitions from laminar (i.e. regular) to turbulent (i.e. chaotic) phases such as USA GDP in 1949, 1953, etc. Last but not least, it has been demonstrated that recurrence quantification analysis can detect differences between macroeconomic variables and highlight hidden features of economic dynamics.[31]

Cycles or fluctuations?The Business Cycle follows changes in stock prices which are mostly caused by external factors such as socioeconomic conditions, inflation, exchange rates. Intellectual capital does not affect a company stock's current earnings. Intellectual capital contributes to a stock's return growth.[32]

In recent years economic theory has moved towards the study of economic fluctuation rather than a "business cycle"[33] – though some economists use the phrase 'business cycle' as a convenient shorthand. For example, Milton Friedman said tha

In recent years economic theory has moved towards the study of economic fluctuation rather than a "business cycle"[33] – though some economists use the phrase 'business cycle' as a convenient shorthand. For example, Milton Friedman said that calling the business cycle a "cycle" is a misnomer, because of its non-cyclical nature. Friedman believed that for the most part, excluding very large supply shocks, business declines are more of a monetary phenomenon.[34]

The explanation of fluctuations in aggregate economic activity is one of the primary concerns of macroeconomics and a variety of theories have been proposed to explain them.

Exogenous vs. endogenousWithin economics, it has been debated as to whether or not the fluctuations of a business cycle are attributable to external (exogenous) versus internal (endogenous) causes. In the first case shocks are stochastic, in the second case shocks are deterministically chaotic and embedded in the economic system.[35] The classical school (now neo-classical) argues for exogenous causes and the underconsumptionist (now Keynesian) school argues for endogenous causes. These may also broadly be classed as "supply-side" and "demand-side" explanations: supply-side explanations may be styled, following Say's law, as arguing that "supply creates its own demand", while demand-side explanations argue that effective demand may fall short of supply, yielding a recession or depression.

This debate has important policy consequences: proponents of exogenous causes of crises such as neoclassicals largely argue for minimal government policy or regulation (laissez faire), as absent these external shocks, the market functions, while proponents of endogenous caus

This debate has important policy consequences: proponents of exogenous causes of crises such as neoclassicals largely argue for minimal government policy or regulation (laissez faire), as absent these external shocks, the market functions, while proponents of endogenous causes of crises such as Keynesians largely argue for larger government policy and regulation, as absent regulation, the market will move from crisis to crisis. This division is not absolute – some classicals (including Say) argued for government policy to mitigate the damage of economic cycles, despite believing in external causes, while Austrian School economists argue against government involvement as only worsening crises, despite believing in internal causes.

The view of the economic cycle as caused exogenously dates to Say's law, and much debate on endogeneity or exogeneity of causes of the economic cycle is framed in terms of refuting or supporting Say's law; this is also referred to as the "general glut" (supply in relation to demand) debate.

Until the Keynesian revolution in mainstream economics in the wake of the Great Depression, classical and neoclassical explanations (exogenous causes) were the mainstream explanation of economic cycles; following the Keynesian revolution, neoclassical macroeconomics was largely rejected. There has been some resurgence of neoclassical approaches in the form of real business cycle (RBC) theory. The debate between Keynesians and neo-classical advocates was reawakened following the recession of 2007.

Mainstream economists working in the neoclassical tradition, as opposed to the Keynesian tradition, have usually viewed the departures of the harmonic working of the market economy as due to exogenous influences, such as the State or its regulations, labor unions, business monopolies, or shocks due to technology or natural causes.

Contrarily, in the heterodox tradition of Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi, Clément Juglar, and Marx the recurrent upturns and downturns of the market system are an endogenous characteristic of it.[36]

The 19th-century school of underconsumptionism also posited endogenous causes for the business cycle, notably the paradox of thrift, and today this previously heterodox school has entered the mainstream in the form of Keynesian economics via the Keynesian revolution.

Mainstream economics views business cycles as essentially "the random summation of random causes". In 1927, Eugen Slutzky observed that summing random numbers, such as the last digits of the Russian state lottery, could generate patterns akin to that we see in business cycles, an observation that has since been repeated many times. This caused economists to move away from viewing business cycles as a cycle that needed to be explained and instead viewing their apparently cyclical nature as a methodological artefact. This means that what appear to be cyclical phenomena can actually be explained as just random events that are fed into a simple linear model. Thus business cycles are essentially random shocks that average out over time. Mainstream economists have built models of business cycles based the idea that they are caused by random shocks.[37][38][39] Due to this inherent randomness, recessions can sometimes not occur for decades; for example, Australia, as of 2018, has not experienced a recession since 1991.[40]

While economists have found it difficult to forecast recessions or determine their likely severity, research indicates that longer expansions do not cause following recessions to be more severe.[41]

Keynesia

While economists have found it difficult to forecast recessions or determine their likely severity, research indicates that longer expansions do not cause following recessions to be more severe.[41]

According to Keynesian economics, fluctuations in aggregate demand cause the economy to come to short run equilibrium at levels that are different from the full employment rate of output. These fluctuations express themselves as the observed business cycles. Keynesian models do not necessarily imply periodic business cycles. However, simple Keynesian models involving the interaction of the Keynesian multiplier and accelerator give rise to cyclical responses to initial shocks. Paul Samuelson's "oscillator model"[42] is supposed to account for business cycles thanks to the multiplier and the accelerator. The amplitude of the variations in economic output depends on the level of the investment, for investment determines the level of aggregate output (multiplier), and is determined by aggregate demand (accelerator).

In the Keynesian tradition, Richard Goodwin[43] accounts for cycles in output by the distribution of income between business profits and workers' wages. The f

In the Keynesian tradition, Richard Goodwin[43] accounts for cycles in output by the distribution of income between business profits and workers' wages. The fluctuations in wages are almost the same as in the level of employment (wage cycle lags one period behind the employment cycle), for when the economy is at high employment, workers are able to demand rises in wages, whereas in periods of high unemployment, wages tend to fall. According to Goodwin, when unemployment and business profits rise, the output rises.

One alternative theory is that the primary cause of economic cycles is due to the credit cycle: the net expansion of credit (increase in private credit, equivalently debt, as a percentage of GDP) yields economic expansions, while the net contraction causes recessions, and if it persists, depressions. In particular, the bursting of speculative bubbles is seen as the proximate cause of depressions, and this theory places finance and banks at the center of the business cycle.

A primary theory in this vein is the debt deflation theory of Irving Fisher, which he proposed to explain the Great Depression. A more recent complementary theory is the Financial Instability Hypothesis of Hyman Minsky, and the credit theory of eco

A primary theory in this vein is the debt deflation theory of Irving Fisher, which he proposed to explain the Great Depression. A more recent complementary theory is the Financial Instability Hypothesis of Hyman Minsky, and the credit theory of economic cycles is often associated with Post-Keynesian economics such as Steve Keen.

Post-Keynesian economist Hyman Minsky has proposed an explanation of cycles founded on fluctuations in credit, interest rates and financial frailty, called the Financial Instability Hypothesis. In an expansion period, interest rates are low and companies easily borrow money from banks to invest. Banks are not reluctant to grant them loans, because expanding economic activity allows business increasing cash flows and therefore they will be able to easily pay back the loans. This process leads to firms becoming excessively indebted, so that they stop investing, and the economy goes into recession.

While credit causes have not been a primary theory of the economic cycle within the mainstream, they have gained occasional mention, such as (Eckstein & Sinai 1986), cited approvingly by (Summers 1986).

Within mainstream economics, Keynesian views have been challenged by real business cycle models in which fluctuations are due to random changes in the total productivity factor (which are caused by changes in technology as well as the legal and regulatory environment). This theory is most associated with Finn E. Kydland and Edward C. Prescott, and more generally the Chicago school of economics (freshwater economics). They consider that economic crisis and fluctuations cannot stem from a monetary shock, only from an external shock, such as an innovation.[44]

Product based theory of economic cycles

This theory explains the nature and causes of economic cycles from the viewpoint of life-cycle of marketable goods.[45] The theory originates from the work of Raymond Vernon, who described the development of international trade in terms of product life-cycle – a period of time during which the product circulates in the market. Vernon stated that some countries specialize in the production and export of technologically new products, while others specialize in the production of already known products. The most developed countries are able to invest large amounts of money in the technological innovations and produce new products, thus obtaining a dynamic comparative advantage over developing countries.

Recent research by Georgiy Revyakin proved initial Vernon theory and showed economic cycles in developed countries overran economic cycles in developing countries.[46]He also presumed economic cycles with different periodicity can be compared to the products with various life-cycles. In case of Kondratiev waves such products correlate with fundamental discoveries implemented in production (inventions which form the technological paradigm: Richard Arkwright's machines, steam engines, industrial use of electricity, computer invention, etc.); Kuznets cycles describe such products as infrastructural components (roadways, transport, utilities, etc.); Juglar cycles may go in parallel with enterprise fixed capital (equipment, machinery, etc.), and Kitchin cycles are characterized by change in the society preferences (tastes) for consu

Recent research by Georgiy Revyakin proved initial Vernon theory and showed economic cycles in developed countries overran economic cycles in developing countries.[46]He also presumed economic cycles with different periodicity can be compared to the products with various life-cycles. In case of Kondratiev waves such products correlate with fundamental discoveries implemented in production (inventions which form the technological paradigm: Richard Arkwright's machines, steam engines, industrial use of electricity, computer invention, etc.); Kuznets cycles describe such products as infrastructural components (roadways, transport, utilities, etc.); Juglar cycles may go in parallel with enterprise fixed capital (equipment, machinery, etc.), and Kitchin cycles are characterized by change in the society preferences (tastes) for consumer goods, and time, which is necessary to start the production.

Highly competitive market conditions would determine simultaneous technological updates of all economic agents (as a result, cycle formation): in case if a manufacturing technology at an enterprise does not meet the current technological environment, – such company loses its competitiveness and eventually goes bankrupt.

Another set of models tries to derive the business cycle from political decisions. The political business cycle theory is strongly linked to the name of Michał Kalecki who discussed "the reluctance of the 'captains of industry' to accept government intervention in the matter of employment".[47] Persistent full employment would mean increasing workers' bargaining power to raise wages and to avoid doing unpaid labor, potentially hurting profitability. However, he did not see this theory as applying under fascism, which would use direct force to destroy labor's power.

In recent years, proponents of the "electoral business cycle" theory have argued that incumbent politicians encourage prosperity before elections in order to ensure re-election – and make the citizens pay for it with recessions afterwards.[48] The political business

In recent years, proponents of the "electoral business cycle" theory have argued that incumbent politicians encourage prosperity before elections in order to ensure re-election – and make the citizens pay for it with recessions afterwards.[48] The political business cycle is an alternative theory stating that when an administration of any hue is elected, it initially adopts a contractionary policy to reduce inflation and gain a reputation for economic competence. It then adopts an expansionary policy in the lead up to the next election, hoping to achieve simultaneously low inflation and unemployment on election day.[49]

The partisan business cycle suggests that cycles result from the successive elections of administrations with different policy regimes. Regime A adopts expansionary policies, resulting in growth and inflation, but is voted out of office when inflation becomes unacceptably high. The replacement, Regime B, adopts contractionary policies reducing inflation and growth, and the downwards swing of the cycle. It is voted out of office when unemployment is too high, being replaced by Party A.

For Marx, the economy based on production of commodities to be sold in the market is intrinsically prone to crisis. In the heterodox Marxian view, profit is the major engine of the market economy, but business (capital) profitability has a tendency to fall that recurrently creates crises in which mass unemployment occurs, businesses fail, remaining capital is centralized and concentrated and profitability is recovered. In the long run, these crises tend to be more severe and the system will eventually fail.[50]

Some Marxist authors such as Rosa Luxemburg viewed the lack of purchasing power of workers as a cause of a tendency of supply to be larger than demand, creating crisis, in a model that has similarities with the Keynesian one. Indeed, a number of modern authors have tried

Some Marxist authors such as Rosa Luxemburg viewed the lack of purchasing power of workers as a cause of a tendency of supply to be larger than demand, creating crisis, in a model that has similarities with the Keynesian one. Indeed, a number of modern authors have tried to combine Marx's and Keynes's views. Henryk Grossman[51] reviewed the debates and the counteracting tendencies and Paul Mattick subsequently emphasized the basic differences between the Marxian and the Keynesian perspective. While Keynes saw capitalism as a system worth maintaining and susceptible to efficient regulation, Marx viewed capitalism as a historically doomed system that cannot be put under societal control.[52]

The American mathematician and economist Richard M. Goodwin formalised a Marxist model of business cycles known as the Goodwin Model in which recession was caused by increased bargaining power of workers (a result of high employment in boom periods) pushing up the wage share of national income, suppressing profits and leading to a breakdown in capital accumulation. Later theorists applying variants of the Goodwin model have identified both short and long period profit-led growth and distribution cycles in the United States and elsewhere.[53][54][55][56][57] David Gordon provided a Marxist model of long period institutional growth cycles in an attempt to explain the Kondratiev wave. This cycle is due to the periodic breakdown of the social structure of accumulation, a set of institutions which secure and stabilise capital accumulation.

Economists of the heterodox Austrian School argue that business cycles are caused by excessive issuance of credit by banks in fractional reserve banking systems. According to Austrian economists, excessive issuance of bank credit may be exacerbated if central bank monetary policy sets interest rates too low, and the resulting expansion of the money supply causes a "boom" in which resources are misallocated or "malinvested" because of artificially low interest rates. Eventually, the boom cannot be sustained and is followed by a "bust" in which the malinvestments are liquidated (sold for less than their original cost) and the money supply contracts.[58][59]

One of the criticisms of the Austrian business cycle theory is based on the observation that the United States suffered recurrent economic crises in the 19th century, notably the Panic of 1873, which occurred prior to the establishment of a U.S. central bank in 1913. Adherents of the Austrian business cycle theory is based on the observation that the United States suffered recurrent economic crises in the 19th century, notably the Panic of 1873, which occurred prior to the establishment of a U.S. central bank in 1913. Adherents of the Austrian School, such as the historian Thomas Woods, argue that these earlier financial crises were prompted by government and bankers' efforts to expand credit despite restraints imposed by the prevailing gold standard, and are thus consistent with Austrian Business Cycle Theory.[60][61]

The Austrian explanation of the business cycle differs significantly from the mainstream understanding of business cycles and is generally rejected by mainstream economists. Mainstream economists generally do not support Austrian school explanations for business cycles, on both theoretical as well as real-world empirical grounds.[62][63][64][65][66][67] Austrians claim that the boom-and-bust business cycle is caused by government intervention into the economy, and that the cycle would be comparatively rare and mild without central government interference.

The slope of the yield curve is one of the most powerful predictors of future economic growth, inflation, and recessions.[68] One measure of the yield curve slope (i.e. the difference between 10-year Treasury bond rate and the 3-month Treasury bond rate) is included in the Financial Stress Index published by the St. Louis Fed.[69] A different measure of the slope (i.e. the difference between 10-year Treasury bond rates and the federal funds rate) is incorporated into the Index of Leading Economic Indicators published by The Conference Board.[70]

An inverted yield curve is often a harbinger of recession. A positively sloped yield curve is often a harbinger of inflationary growth. Work by Arturo Estrella and Tobias Adrian has established the predictive power

An inverted yield curve is often a harbinger of recession. A positively sloped yield curve is often a harbinger of inflationary growth. Work by Arturo Estrella and Tobias Adrian has established the predictive power of an inverted yield curve to signal a recession. Their models show that when the difference between short-term interest rates (they use 3-month T-bills) and long-term interest rates (10-year Treasury bonds) at the end of a federal reserve tightening cycle is negative or less than 93 basis points positive that a rise in unemployment usually occurs.[71] The New York Fed publishes a monthly recession probability prediction derived from the yield curve and based on Estrella's work.

All the recessions in the United States since 1970 (up through 2017) have been preceded by an inverted yield curve (10-year vs. 3-month). Over the same time frame, every occurrence of an inverted yield curve has been followed by recession as declared by the NBER business cycle dating committee.[72]

Estrella and others have postulated that the yield curve affects the business cycle via the balance sheet of banks (or bank-like financial institutions).[73] When the yield curve is inverted banks are often caught paying more on short-term deposits (or other forms of short-term wholesale funding) than they are making on long-term loans leading to a loss of profitability and reluctance to lend resulting in a credit crunch. When the yield curve is upward sloping, banks can profitably take-in short term deposits and make long-term loans so they are eager to supply credit to borrowers. This eventually leads to a credit bubble.

Georgism

Henry George claimed land price fluctuations were the primary cause of most business cycles.[74] The theory is generally discounted by modern mainstream economists.[75]

Mitigating an economic downturn

Many social indicators, such as mental health, crimes, and suicides, worsen during economic recessions (though general mortality tends to fall, and it is in expansions when it tends to increase).[76] As periods of economic stagnation are painful for the many who lose their jobs, there is often political pressure for governments to mitigate recessions. Since the 1940s, following the Keynesian revolution, most governments of developed nations have seen the mitigation of the business cycle as part of the responsibility of government, under the rubric of stabilization policy.[77]

Since in the Keynesian view, recessions are caused by inadequate aggregate demand, when a recession occurs the government should increase the amount of aggregate demand and bring the economy back into equilibrium. This the government can do in two ways, firstly by increasing the money supply (expansionary monetary policy) and secondly by increasing government spending or cutting taxes (expansionary fiscal policy).

By contrast, some economists, notably New classical economist Robert Lucas, argue that the welfare cost of business cycl

Henry George claimed land price fluctuations were the primary cause of most business cycles.[74] The theory is generally discounted by modern mainstream economists.[75]

Mitigating an economic downturn