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Evan Davis on... cycle length

Updated Thursday, 18th June 2009

The Bottom Line presenter Evan Davis asks how long economists view economic cycles as lasting.

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We often talk about economic cycles don’t we? Now most people when they think about that tend to think about something that perhaps lasts a small number of years. A recession is the bottom of the cycle, that lasts a few months and then we’re out of that, and then within a year or two we’re back into the upswing and the next boom comes and we’re back again turning round in maybe three years’ time. That’s a perfectly reasonably way of thinking about cycles, there are cycles that last relatively short periods.

But some economists think about cycles of different durations; you have a longer swing that maybe goes up and down, decade by decade. There are some economists, Kondratiev is the name that comes to mind of course, who spoke about cycles, really, really long cycles that lasted decades and decades. Great sweeps of history of upswings and downswings.

One of the great things that we have to do as we try and analyse the world and analyse the economy and as businesses think about the phase they’re in, is decide whether we’re in the midst of a short cycle or whether the short cycle we seem to be in, like a deep recession, is really just the beginning of a long cycle.

And it certainly feels to me at the moment, we could be at the turning point of an age taking us from a long period of prosperity and spending and consumption towards a new era of austerity.

In which it’s not just the economic turning point but which in the cultural and other ways in which consumers, for example, behave and value things, in which there’s a really, really much bigger turning point than would normally be implied by just two quarters or negative growth in an economy.

Are we really in for a big change? Well, I have my view, but you can join in the debate with the Open University.

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