Is there a sound economic theory which predicts an 80 year cycle of great depressions?
September 22, 2008 5:15 PM   Subscribe

In a book by Arthur C. Clarke (Ghost from the Grand Banks if I remember correctly... if I'm wrong please correct me) he talks about an economic theory which predicts great depressions every 80 years or so. Now, current events have brought this prediction rather starkly to mind. Was there a sound basis for that prediction or is it merely that bad economic shocks happen often enough for a fake pattern to emerge? Was it maybe just a lucky guess?

I've done a lot of googling of 80 year cycle and other terms that I've thought might get me somewhere interesting but all I get is conspiracy theorists and worse. Now, I know that Ghost from the Grand Banks is lesser Clarke but I'd like to think that he was a little bit more up on his economics than internet conspiracy theorists. The 80 year cycle thing might also have been mentioned in an introduction or afterword.
posted by Kattullus to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're looking for the Kondratiev Wave.
posted by the dief at 5:40 PM on September 22, 2008

Response by poster: It wasn't the Kondratiev Wave because it was very specifically an 80 year cycle, the big economic shock happened at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.
posted by Kattullus at 7:19 PM on September 22, 2008

Maybe some variation on the Kondratieff wave? Clarke's fictionalised spin on it? In any case, people generally use Kondratieff as a catch-all term for all hypothesised long waves in the economy.

But they are in no way a sound economic theory, either theoretically or empirically. No one has any plausible reason for why these cycles would exist, though many 'Just-So' stories are proposed. Similarly, the evidence is not compelling. Given so much data, it would be surprising if you couldn't find some patterns if you looked hard.
posted by matthewr at 7:28 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Was it Ghost or was it Rama II?

I do recall Clarke predicting a complete credit crash in the latter, I can't remember if the 80-year cycle was in there, too. Unfortunately, my Clarke books are all in storage back in the UK...
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 8:17 PM on September 22, 2008

Response by poster: Could have been Rama II, from about the same era, both for Clarke and for when I was reading those stories.
posted by Kattullus at 8:48 PM on September 22, 2008

Response by poster: Ah, but Dent published his theories after The Ghost from the Grand Banks (published 1990) and Rama II (published 1989) the two main contenders for where the hell I read this stuff. So while it does include the 80 year cycle thing it can't be what Clarke was writing about (unless I'm completely off mark as to what book it was that I read this in).
posted by Kattullus at 9:36 PM on September 22, 2008


You probably remember correctly. Claims of 'long waves' go way back. I don't know where Clarke came up with 80 years, but finding erroneous periodicities is a cottage industry in science.
posted by lukemeister at 9:48 PM on September 22, 2008

There was a Heinlein short story or novella in which Our Hero (brainy, practical, salt-of-the-earth alter ego for Heinlein, per usual) had identified many short and long cycles, economic and otherwise, and they all reached their peak at one apocalyptic moment. (I can't search for it now, sorry.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:24 AM on September 23, 2008

The link to Kevin Kelly's website is a short thought about Clarke's response to his book Out of Control. Clarke was bright enough, and aware enough to have come up with his own theory.
posted by ptm at 4:19 AM on September 24, 2008

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