Business Cycles: The Problem and Its Setting

By Wesley C. Mitchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V.
RESULTS AND PLANS.

I. The Concept of Business Cycles.

1. EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT.

To the early workers in our field the pressing problem was to account for the dramatic events which they called "commercial crises." Not only did they confine themselves mainly to this single phase of business fluctuations; also they confined themselves mainly to excogitating explanations. The occurrence of crises was known to everyone. What need was there of elaborate factual investigations? And why need one explain prosperity?

This approach led to a discussion which centered in the validity of rival doctrines, rather than in the characteristics of business fluctuations. The participants debated with each other on the basis of common knowledge, reënforeed by occasional citations of evidence. Even in using evidence, their aims were oftener dialectical than positive. A second consequence was that the discussion tended to drift away from the main body of economic theory and to become a "specialty." For when crises are taken out of their setting in a continuous process of change, they appear to be "abnormal" phenomena. As such they lie on the edge, rather than in the center, of the theoretician's domain. In discussions of what were taken to be the leading problems of economics, changes in business activity were among the matters hidden from sight under the blanket assumption, "other things remaining the same." While chapters on the cause of crises appeared in some of the standard treatises which applied economic principles to practical issues, the topic had no place in "pure theory." Most of the contributions were monographs, and many of the writers had but slender knowledge of economics. As late as 1898, Böhm- Bawerk thought it necessary to argue that a theory of crises "should always form the last, or next-to-the-last, chapter in a system of eco-

-451-

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Business Cycles: The Problem and Its Setting
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page vii
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • List of Charts xviii
  • Chapter I - The Processes Involved in Business Cycles. 1
  • Chapter II - Economic Organization and Business Cycles. 61
  • Viii. Conclusion. 180
  • Chapter III - The Contribution of Statistics 189
  • Chapter IV - The Contribution of Business Annals. 361
  • Chapter V - Results and Plans. 451
  • Addenda 475
  • Index 481
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