Periodic fluctuation in the rate of economic activity, as measured by levels of employment, prices, and production. Economists have long debated why periods of prosperity are eventually followed by economic crises (stock-market crashes, bankruptcies, unemployment, etc.). Some have identified recurring 8-to-10-year cycles in market economies; longer cycles have also been proposed, notably by Nikolay Kondratev. Apart from random shocks to the economy, such as wars and technological changes, the main influences on the level of economic activity are investment and consumption. An increase in investment, as when a factory is built, leads to consumption because the workers employed to build the factory have wages to spend. Conversely, increases in consumer demand cause new factories to be built to satisfy the demand. Eventually the economy reaches its full capacity, and, with little free capital and no new demand, the process reverses itself and contraction ensues. Natural fluctuations in agricultural markets, psychological factors such as a bandwagon mentality, and changes in the money supply have all been proposed as explanations for initial changes in investment and consumption. After World War II many governments used monetary policy to moderate the business cycle, aiming to prevent the extremes of inflation and depression by stimulating the national economy in slack times and restraining it during expansions. See also productivity.
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