Business cycles are the natural rise and fall of the economy between periods of expansion and contraction.
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The Great Depression and World War II
The Great Depression and World War II had a profound impact on business cycles in the United States. Prior to the war, business cycles were relatively short and mild, with little variation in economic activity. however, after the war, business cycles became longer and more severe, with more pronounced periods of recession and expansion.
There are several theories that attempt to explain this change, but no consensus has been reached. Some economists argue that the change was due to increased government intervention in the economy, while others argue that it was due to changes in technology or other factors. Regardless of the cause, the change in business cycles after World War II was dramatic and has had a lasting impact on the economy.
The Post-War Boom
After World War II, the United States enjoyed an economic boom. This was due to a number of factors, including the pent-up demand for goods and services after years of war, the expansion of the U.S. economy through increased exports, and the influx of returning soldiers who were finding jobs and starting families.
The post-war boom lasted for about two decades, from the late 1940s until the early 1960s. During this time, unemployment was low and wages were rising. This was a golden age for the U.S. economy, and many Americans enjoyed a lifestyle that was much better than what their parents had experienced during the Great Depression and World War II.
However, the post-war boom eventually came to an end. Inflation began to increase in the 1960s, and this led to higher interest rates and increased costs for consumers. A recession began in 1973, which caused unemployment to rise and inflation to increase even further. These problems led to a period of stagflation, which is when inflation is high but economic growth is low.
The stagflation of the 1970s was finally ended by a combination of lower oil prices and higher interest rates. This helped reduce inflationary pressure and allowed the economy to start growing again. However, GDP growth was relatively slow during this period compared to other postwar periods, averaging only about 2% per year from 1982 to 2000.
The stagflation of the 1970s
The stagflation of the 1970s was a period of economic distress characterized by high inflation and unemployment. It was a time of stagflation, or economic stagnation, in which inflation remained high while economic growth stalled. The stagflation of the 1970s began in 1973, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an oil embargo on the United States and other Western nations. The embargo caused a sharp increase in oil prices, which helped to push the world economy into recession.
In the United States, the combination of high inflation and high unemployment came to be known as “stagflation.” The stagflation of the 1970s was caused by a number of factors, including the oil embargo, increases in government spending, and poorly designed economic policies. In response to the stagflation of the 1970s, many Western nations adopted new economic policies, such as deregulation and privatization. These policies helped to end the stagflation and usher in a period of sustained economic growth.
The early 1980s recession
In the early 1980s, the United States experienced a severe recession. output and employment fell sharply, as did the prices of most raw materials and finished goods. The early 1980s recession was precipitated by a combination of tight monetary policy and the oil price shocks of 1979–80.
The recession of the early 1980s was particularly severe in manufacturing, which experienced its steepest decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The auto industry was especially hard hit, as were industries that produced basic steel, machine tools, and other manufactured goods. The farm sector also suffered from lower commodity prices and higher interest rates.
The unemployment rate rose to more than 10 percent in 1982, its highest level since the Great Depression. Inflation, which had been high in the late 1970s, fell sharply in 1981 and remained low through most of the decade.
The late-1980s and early-1990s expansion
After a decade of low growth and high inflation, the late-1980s and early-1990s expansion was characterized by strong job growth and falling inflation. The expansion began in 1991 and lasted until 2001, making it the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. During this period, unemployment fell to its lowest levels since the 1970s, and median household income rose to its highest level ever.
The mid-1990s slowdown
The United States economy experienced a serious slowdown in the late 1990s. After expanding rapidly in the second half of the 1990s, growth slowed abruptly in 2000 and2001. This deceleration was unusually sharp by recent standards: output growth fell below 2 percent in 2000 and slumped to just over 1 percent in 2001, its slowest pace since the early 1990s recession. The main drivers of the slowdown were a sharp drop in business investment spending and slower growth in consumer spending.
What factors lay behind this sudden loss of momentum? One important development was the end of an extraordinary period of low inflation and stable interest rates that had begun in the early 1990s. Another was a marked deterioration in business confidence, which led firms to pull back on their plans for new investment spending. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, added to the atmosphere of uncertainty and further depressed investment spending. Finally, the stock market bubble of the late 1990s deflated sharply in 2000–2001, reducing households’ wealth and leading to a drop in consumer spending growth.
The late-1990s and early-2000s expansion
U.S. business cycles have changed noticeably since the end of World War II. The most important changes are that expansions have been longer and less frequent, and contractions have been shorter and less severe.
There have been 11 expansions since World War II:
The late-1990s and early-2000s expansion was the longest in U.S. history, lasting 10 years. It was also the second longest economic expansion in world history, surpassed only by the long boom that took place in Japan from 1965 to 1971. The expansion of the 1990s was fueled by a number of factors, including strong productivity growth, low inflation, low interest rates, and a growing global economy.
The early-2000s recession
Since the end of World War II, the United States has experienced several business cycles. The most recent recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. This recession was caused by a number of factors, including the bursting of the dot-com bubble, high oil prices, and subprime mortgage lending practices.
The early-2000s recession was relatively mild, compared to other postwar recessions. For example, unemployment peaked at only 6.3 percent in June 2009. However, this recession was unusual in terms of its length; at 18 months, it was the longest recession since World War II. In addition, this recession coincided with a sharp decrease in housing prices, which led to a wave of foreclosures and increased personal debt levels.
The late-2000s financial crisis
The late-2000s financial crisis was the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It led to widespread bankruptcy, unemployment, and foreclosures. The federal government bailed out many banks and other financial institutions to keep them afloat.
The recession officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. However, many people continued to experience economic hardship for years afterwards. The unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009 and did not fall below 6% until September 2015.
The housing market was particularly hard-hit by the recession. Home prices peaked in 2006 and then fell by more than 30% by early 2009. This made it difficult for people to sell their homes or refinance their mortgages. As a result, foreclosures rose sharply and millions of people lost their homes.
The stock market also plunged during the recession, causing many people to lose money on their investments. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell from a high of 14,000 in October 2007 to a low of 6,547 in March 2009, a decline of more than 50%.
After years of economic turmoil, the U.S. economy finally began to recover in 2010. However, the recovery was slow and uneven, and many Americans continue to struggle financially even today.
The post-crisis expansion
The post-crisis expansion was faster and lasted longer than most earlier expansions. But it was not without problems. Inflationary pressures began to emerge in the second half of the decade. At the same time, the investment boom that had driven the expansion began to slow.
The most serious problem was inflation. By 1974, inflation was rising at a double-digit pace. The oil shock of 1973–74 made matters worse, pushing inflation to more than 12 percent by 1974. President Gerald Ford tried to fight inflation with a program of wage and price controls, but these were only partially successful.
In 1975, Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns turned to a policy of “selective credit restraint” to try to slow the economy and fight inflation. This policy raised interest rates and caused a mild recession in 1975–76. But it did not bring inflation under control, and Burns was replaced by Paul Volcker in 1979.
Volcker adopted a very different approach to fighting inflation. He lifted wage and price controls and Pursued a policy of “monetarism,” which sought to reduce inflation by reducing the money supply. This policy led to a sharp increase in interest rates and a deep recession in 1981–82. But it succeeded in bringing inflation under control, and the economy began a long expansion in 1983 that lasted until 1991.