Joseph Schumpeter's "long cycle" was named after Nikolai Kondratieff, a prominent Russian economist and statistician of the 1920s who had studied under M.I. Tugan-Baranovsky in St Petersburg before the Bolshevik revolution.
Kondratieff conducted what may have been the first econometric study of long cycles in the world economy, and then, in 1920, began a center for investigation of business cycles, the Conjuncture Institute, which later became a part of Moscow Sate University. His studies anticipated work by the Mathematical school of Soviet economists, most notably the Nobel-prize winner Leonid Kantorovich..
Outside Russia, Kondratieff's reputation rests almost exclusively on his business cycle theory, although he made other contributions to economics as well. Only one of Kondratieff's works was translated, however, and he died in prison on an uncertain date, the victim of a Stalinist purge aimed at recalcitrant Russian intellectuals.
Kondratieff hypothesized the existence of regular and consistent "long waves" of economic activity, and he amassed statistical data covering several centuries to support his thesis. The chief characteristic of Kondratieff's long cycle is that periods of about 20-25 years of relatively high prices for food and raw materials give way, in the downswing, to approximately equal periods of relatively cheap food and basic materials.
A strong revival of interest in Kondratieff surged during the 1970s because it seemed that the world was entering the upswing of one of the "long waves"—that is, food and energy prices were climbing rapidly after several decades of relative decline. However, since roughly 1985, the worldwide trend in food and energy prices has been downward. This has not prevented numerous newsletters from touting Kondratieff’s name in predicting the “upcoming downturn,” especially a number of newsletters that are of questionable value, but which are aimed at those financial investors all too ready to believe that “the sky is falling.” It seems that a lot of people are always on the brink, and expect cataclysm to be upon us in short order.
The key lesson from history about Kondratieff upswings is that maintaining an industrial society in the face of relatively expensive basic products requires increasing investment in ways that will expand the supplies of these basic products. A common response in the past was to open up new supply areas: the American West, Canada, and Australia, for examples. But in our own time, relatively few frontiers remain. It therefore appears that human ingenuity, invention, and innovation will have to see us through the current upswing if we are ever to reach the next Kondratieff downswing. Failing this, the twin ghosts of Schumpeter and Kondratieff may continue to haunt the economies of the world.