The Business Cycle – Illustrating the Economy’s Booms and Busts

The business cycle model is one often referred to in the media, which likes to use terms like “boom’ and ‘bust’. It is a model that can communicate several important pieces of information about a nation’s economy. Basically, the business cycles is a graph which shows the level of real GDP over time. The vertical axis shows the level of GDP, and horizontal axis time.

A typical nation’s business cycle will most likely look like a wave, showing how GDP rises and falls over time. Assuming the country is achieving economic growth over the long-run, business cycle’s ‘line of best fit’ or ‘trend line’ will slop upwards, indicating that over the span of years or decades, a nation’s economy will produce more output. But over shorter periods of time, output may fluctuate, as the economy experiences those ‘booms and busts’ the media are so fond of.

There are four fundamental phases in any nation’s business cycle:

  • Expansion: Also known as the recovery phase, when the nation’s output is rising at a rate faster than the long-run trend.
  • Peak: This is the end of a period of expansion, when output begins to decline
  • Contraction: Also known as the recession phase, when the nation’s output is falling over time.
  • Trough: This is the end of a period of recession, when output begins to recover (the economy enters an expansion phase again).

This video lesson will explore the four phases of a nation’s business cycles and explain how the goal of macroeconomic policies is to ‘smooth out’ the fluctuations in the business cycle, and thereby reduce the amount of uncertainty faced by a nation’s households and firms regarding the future level of economic activity.

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The Income Approach and the Expenditure Approach to Measuring the GDP of a Nation

GDP is generally understood to represent the health of a nation’s economy, and most people realize that if GDP is growing, things are going well, while if it’s falling things have turned sour in the economy. But what, precisely, does GDP measures? There are two primary methods for measuring GDP, which should yield the same result even though they measure completely different factors.
  • The income approach: measures the total incomes earned by households in a nation in a year.
  • The expenditure approach: measures the total amount spent on the goods produced by a country in a year.
By examining the circular flow model of a nation’s economy, we can demonstrate why every dollar earned by a household in a nation’s resource market will ultimately be spent in the product market, or leaked through taxes, savings, and import spending, leading to injections in the form of government spending, investment and export sales.
In the video lecture below, the two methods for measuring GDP are introduced, and the various components it includes are explained in detail. Watch the video and then download and attempt the activity: 

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Updated: Real versus Nominal GDP and the GDP Deflator

Updated: Real versus Nominal GDP and the GDP Deflator

A nation’s GDP measure’s the value of its output of goods and services in a particular period of time. Gross Domestic Product is expressed in dollar terms, which means that if the price of goods and services rise, a country’s nominal GDP figure will increase. The problem with this is that an increase in the nominal (numerical) value of a country’s output can increase when price levels rise, even if the actual level of output remains the same.

For this reason, it is important to adjust a nation’s nominal GDP for any changes in the price level that occur between two periods of time. Once nominal GDP is adjusted for inflation or deflation, we arrive at real GDP, which is a much more accurate measurement of the actual level of output in a nation, adjusting for any changes in prices.

This lesson will define nominal and real GDP and use a numerical example to illustrate why measuring nominal GDP produces a false impression of the actual level of output a nation is producing from one year to the next. We will then use a simple formula to determine the GDP deflator, the price index that allows us to adjust nominal GDP to arrive at real GDP.

To order practice activities on this and other lessons from the Econ Classroom, click here.

For student revision guides and teacher PowerPoints, click here.

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