by Jeff Walker
Cycles — in things as varied as locusts, sunspots and pig iron production — are an undeniable part of
the universe. The reality of Nicolai Kondratieff's 54-year cycle is rather less certain.
A cycle is a more-or-less regular fluctuation of a value from one extreme to another and at least partially
back. In the longer run, the value may be trending higher, lower or not at all.
Most advocates of the Kondratieff wave (K-wave) believe that an economic cycle averaging 54 years in
duration turned up around the time of the Great Depression. Most believe that it peaked in the early
1970s and began a descent that will end with another serious depression in the 1990s. In this view, the
economic resurgence of the mid-1980s is an illusion typical of the next-to-last stage of the "long wave."
And what is this economic cycle? Well, there is no single variable that it tracks, but whatever
combination it does track purports to mirror rising and falling general economic prosperity in the U.S.
and perhaps other capitalist countries. Different K-wave theorists suggest different combinations.