The Cycles of Economic Discontent

FLORENCE – The nineteenth century was mesmerized by the cyclical behavior of business. The French economist Clement Juglar became famous for establishing that business cycles ran for around nine or ten years. We have recently had our own cycles of exuberance and disintegration. But they are very different.

In the nineteenth-century world, people rapidly picked themselves up after downturns and went back to business as usual. In that sense, the phenomenon of the business cycle looked relatively permanent and unchanging. Nowadays, however, a cyclical collapse comes as a great surprise. In its aftermath, we start to reinvent our view of economics. Every ten years or so, we think that a particular model of growth is so broken that it cannot be resurrected. The world needed to be rethought in 1979, 1989, 1998, and 2008.