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Sismondi and his contemporary Robert Owen, who expressed similar but less systematic thoughts in 1817 Report to the Committee of the Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing Poor, both identified the cause of economic cycles as overproduction and underconsumption, caused in particular by wealth inequality.
He who would understand business cycles must master the workings of an economic system organized largely in a network of free enterprises searching for profit.
In Progress and Poverty (1879), Henry George focused on land's role in crises – particularly land speculation – and proposed a single tax on land as a solution.
Schumpeter's Juglar model associates recovery and prosperity with increases in productivity, consumer confidence, aggregate demand, and prices.
Business cycles are usually measured by considering the growth rate of real gross domestic product.
Despite the often-applied term cycles, these fluctuations in economic activity do not exhibit uniform or predictable periodicity.
An expansion is the period from a trough to a peak, and a recession as the period from a peak to a trough.
The NBER identifies a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production".
This work did not generate interest among classical economists, though underconsumption theory developed as a heterodox branch in economics until being systematized in Keynesian economics in the 1930s.
Sismondi's theory of periodic crises was developed into a theory of alternating cycles by Charles Dunoyer, and similar theories, showing signs of influence by Sismondi, were developed by Johann Karl Rodbertus.
In this period, the economic cycle – at least the problem of depressions – was twice declared dead.
The first declaration was in the late 1960s, when the Phillips curve was seen as being able to steer the economy.
Notably, in 2003, Robert Lucas, in his presidential address to the American Economic Association, declared that the "central problem of depression-prevention [has] been solved, for all practical purposes." Unfortunately, this was followed by the 2008–2012 global recession.