Arthur F. Burns

American economist and diplomat (1904-1987)
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Arthur Frank Burns (August 27, 1904 – June 26, 1987) was an American economist. His career alternated between academia and government. From 1927 to the 1970s, Burns taught and researched at Rutgers University, Columbia University, and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Arthur F. Burns, 1955


  • Business cycles are a type of fluctuation found in the aggregate activity of nations that organize their work mainly in business enterprises: a cycle consists of expansions occurring at about the same time in many economic activities, followed by similarly general recessions, contractions, and revivals which merge into the expansion phase of the next cycle; this sequence of changes is recurrent but not periodic; in duration business cycles vary from more than one year to ten or twelve years; they are not divisible into shorter cycles of similar character with amplitudes approximating their own.
    • Arthur F. Burns and George W. Mitchell (1946). Measuring business cycles. New York: National Bureau of Economic Research. p. 3; Cited in: Robert J. Gordon, ed. The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change, 1986. p. 2
  • For well over a century business cycles have run an unceasing round. They have persisted through vast economic and social changes; they have withstood countless experiments in industry, agriculture, banking, industrial relations, and public policy; they have confounded forecasters without number, belied repeated prophecies of a "new era of prosperity" and outlived repeated forebodings of "chronic depression."
    • Arthur F. Burns (1947). Stepping stones towards the future. Annual Report 27. New York: National Bureau of Economic Research. p. 27; Cited in: Gordon (1986; 1)

"Progress Towards Economic Stability", 1969


Arthur F. Burns (1969). "Progress Towards Economic Stability", in: Arthur F. Burns (ed.) The Business Cycle in a Changing World, NBER. p. 101-128

  • THE AMERICAN people have of late been more conscious of the business cycle, more sensitive to every wrinkle of economic curves, more alert to the possible need for contra-cyclical action on the part of government, than ever before in our history. Minor changes of employment or of productivity or of the price level, which in an earlier generation would have gone unnoticed, are nowadays followed closely by laymen as well as experts.
    • p. 101
  • This sensitivity to the phenomena of recession and inflation is a symptom of an increased public awareness of both the need for and the attainability of economic progress. It is precisely because so much of current industrial and governmental practice can be better in the future that our meetings this year are focused on the broad problem of improving the performance of the American economy. However, as we go about the task of appraisal and criticism, it will be well to discipline our impatience for reform. In the measure that we avoid exaggerating our nation's failures or understating its successes, we shall make it easier for ourselves as well as for economists in other countries to see current needs and developments in a just perspective.
    • p. 101-2
  • Clearly, the broad effect of economic evolution until about 1920 was to increase the concentration of jobs in the cyclically volatile industries, and this was a major force tending to intensify declines of employment during business contractions. Since then, the continued progress of technology, the very factor which originally was mainly responsible for the concentration in the cyclical industries, has served to arrest this tendency. The upward trend of production in manufacturing and the other highly cyclical industries has remained rapid in recent decades.
    • p. 109-110

Quotes about Arthur F. Burns

  • The only disagreement among economists is whether Burns fully understood the mistakes he was making, or was so wedded to incorrect Keynesian theories that he didn't realize what he was doing. The only alternative is that he was under irresistible political pressure from Nixon and had no choice. Neither explanation is very favorable to Burns. Economists now recognize the Nixon era as Exhibit A in how the adoption of bad economic policies in pursuit of short-term political gain eventually turns out to be bad politics as well.
    • Bruce Bartlett (2006). Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. New York: Doubleday. p. 147.
  • The OPEC oil-price hike caused inflation to shoot up in the USA. The stock markets took a real hit, causing considerable nervousness, while there was some serious supply and demand confusion within American industry. However, there was no collapse of the stock markets or the currency or the banking system. Under the chairmanship of Arthur Burns from 1970 to 1978, the Federal Reserve, which followed aggressive deflationary policies, proved robust and, although demand remained lower for a while, manufacturing had improved by mid-1974.
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