Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Positive Quiddity: Nikolai Kondratiev

Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kondratiev (in some sources also referred as Kondratieff, Russian: Никола́й Дми́триевич Кондра́тьев; 4 March 1892 – 17 September 1938) was a Russian economist, who was a proponent of the New Economic Policy (NEP), which promoted small private, free market enterprises in the Soviet Union. He is best known for proposing the theory that Western capitalist economies have long term (50 to 60 years) cycles of boom followed by depression. These business cycles are now called "Kondratiev waves.”

Life and Controversy

He was tutored at the University of St. Petersburg before the 1917 Russian Revolution by Mikhail Tugan-Baranovsky. A member of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, his initial professional work was in the area of agricultural economics and statistics and the problem of food supplies. On 5 October 1917, at the age of 25, he was appointed Deputy Minister of Supply of the last Alexander Kerensky government, which lasted for only a few days.

After the revolution, Kondratiev pursued academic research. In 1919, he was appointed to a teaching post at the Agricultural Academy of Peter the Great. In October 1920 he founded the Institute of Conjuncture, in Moscow. As its first director, he developed it into a large and respected institution with 51 researchers by 1923.

In 1922, he published his first writing on long cycles., The World Economy and its Conjunctures During and After the War. His writing that capitalist economies were characterized by successions of expansion and decline contradicted the Marxist idea of the imminent collapse of capitalism.

In 1923, Kondratiev intervened in the debate about the "Scissors Crisis", following the general opinion of his colleagues. In 1923–25, he worked on a five-year plan for the development of Soviet agriculture. In 1924, after publishing his first book, presenting the first tentative version of his theory of major cycles, Kondratiev traveled to England, Germany, Canada and the United States, and visited several universities before returning to Russia. In 1925 he published his book The Major Economic Cycles which quickly was translated into German. A short form was published in 1935 in the Review of Economic Statistics and for a time his ideas became popular in the west, until eclipsed by those of John Maynard Keynes.

Kondratiev's economic cycle theory held that there were long cycles of about fifty years. In the beginning of the cycle economies produce high cost capital goods and infrastructure investments creating new employment and income and a demand for consumer goods. However, after a few decades the expected return on investment falls below the interest rate and people refuse to invest, even as overcapacity in capital goods gives rise to massive layoffs, reducing the demand for consumer goods. Unemployment and a long economic crisis ensue as economies contract. People and companies save their resources until confidence begins to return and there is an upswing into a new capital formation period, usually characterized by large scale investment in new technologies.

A member of the People's Commissariat of Agriculture and a proponent of the Soviet New Economic Policy (NEP) supported by Vladimir Lenin, Kondratiev was influential with writings about agriculture and planning methodology. Influenced by his trips overseas, he advocated a market-led industrialization strategy emphasizing export of agricultural produce to pay for industrialization, following the Ricardian economics theory of comparative advantage. He proposed a plan for agriculture and forestry from 1924 to 1928. However, after the death of Lenin in 1924, Joseph Stalin, who favored complete government control of the economy, took control of the Communist Party. Kondratiev's influence quickly waned.

According to the late Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman, Kondratiev was reported to Soviet authorities by a member of the University of Minnesota agriculture faculty in 1927 after a visit to sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, a fellow Komi:

Kondratieff (sic), an agricultural economist and student of business cycles, visited Minnesota in 1927 and stayed with Sorokin. A number of prominent American scientists were pro-communist at the time. One was a forester at the Ag campus where I had an office. He upbraided me for associating with Sorokin and Kondratieff and told me he was going to send a report about Kondratieff back to Russia. Later I learned that Kondratieff was arrested immediately after returning to Russia from the trip to see American universities. However, he was not given the final "treatment" until the Stalinist purges of 1931.

Kondratiev was removed from the directorship of the Institute of Conjuncture in 1928 and arrested in July 1930, accused of being a member of a "Peasants Labour Party" (allegedly a non-existent party invented by the NKVD). Convicted as a "kulak-professor" and sentenced to 8 years in prison, Kondratiev served his sentence, from February 1932 onwards, at Suzdal, near Moscow. Although his health deteriorated under poor conditions, Kondratiev continued his research and decided to prepare five new books, as he mentioned in a letter to his wife. Some of these texts were indeed completed and were published.

His last letter was sent to his daughter, Elena Kondratieva, on 31 August 1938. In September 1938 during Stalin's Great Purge, he was subjected to a second trial, condemned to ten years without the right to correspond with the outside world. However, Kondratiev was executed by firing squad on the same day the sentence was issued. Kondratiev was 46 at the time of his execution.

In the 1970s, increased interest in business cycles led to the rediscovery of Kondratiev's work, including the first-time publication of a complete English translation of his seminal article "The Long Waves in Economic Life" in the journal Review (Fernand Braudel Center) in 1979 (the article was originally published in a German journal in 1926 and a partial English translation appeared in the journal The Review of Economic Statistics in 1935). This rediscovery of Kondratiev in English-speaking academia led to his theories being extended for the first time beyond economics as, for example, political scientists such as Joshua Goldstein and geographers such as Brian Berry extended the concept of Kondratiev long waves into their own fields. However, Kondratiev's theory remains controversial because, among other issues, of his ideas about the periodical character of the replacement of basic capital goods and the empirical possibility of coincidence in identifying long waves (i.e. that long waves are simply an epiphenomenon).

In 1987, the Soviet Union officially rehabilitated Kondratiev. His collected works were first translated into English by Stephen S. Wilson in 1998. In 1992, on the centenary of his birth, it was founded the International Foundation N.A. Kondratiev, at the hands of Russian academics, Elena Kondratieva and Italian economist Giancarlo Pallavicini, then first Western advisor to the Russian government for the reform of the economy, appointed vice president, along with Yurji Jacovetz, and Leonid Abalkin president.

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