Depression (economics)

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In economics, a depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe downturn than a recession, which is seen by economists as part of the modern business cycle.

Considered, by some, a rare and extreme form of recession, a depression is characterized by its length, by abnormally large increases in unemployment, falls in the availability of credit— often due to some kind of banking/financial crisis, shrinking output and investment, large number bankruptcies—including sovereign debt defaults, significantly reduced amounts of trade and commerce—especially international, as well as highly volatile relative currency value fluctuations—most often due to devaluations. Price deflation, financial crises and bank failures are also common elements of a depression, that are not normally a part of a recession.



There is no agreed definition for a depression, though some have been proposed. In the United States the National Bureau of Economic Research determines contractions and expansions in the business cycle, but does not declare depressions.[1] Generally, periods labeled depressions are marked by a substantial and sustained shortfall of the ability to purchase goods relative to the amount that could be produced using current resources and technology (potential output).[2] Another proposed definition of depression includes two general rules: 1) a decline in real GDP exceeding 10%, or 2) a recession lasting 2 or more years.[3][4]


Today the term "depression" is most often associated with the Great Depression of the 1930s, but the term had been in use long before then. Indeed, an early major American economic crisis, the Panic of 1819, was described by then-president James Monroe as "a depression",[5] and the economic crisis immediately preceding the 1930s depression, the Depression of 1920–21, was referred to as a "depression" by president Calvin Coolidge.

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