Foundation for the Study of Cycles

Forward to Cycles: The Mysterious Forces That Trigger Events

Forward to Cycles: The Mysterious Forces That Trigger Events

This is the forward by FSC Chairman of the Board and Executive Director Dr. Richard Smith from the newly republished Cycles: The Mysterious Forces That Trigger Events by FSC Founder Edward R. Dewey. Purchase your copy today!

It’s very gratifying to bring this important work back into print in collaboration with Harriman House. The study of cycles and their influence on our individual and collective lives is enjoying a renaissance through the works of Neil Howe, Ray Dalio, Howard Marks and others. We welcome this opportunity for others to learn about this seminal work.

Edward R. Dewey was a pioneer in the study of cycles. His work in this area dates back to 1929 when he was hired by the Department of Commerce. He quickly became the Chief Economic Analyst for President Hoover, where, as Dewey put it, “Talk about being where the action is. Let me tell you, I was there!”

Dewey was tasked by President Hoover to figure out why depressions happened. “I was assigned the task of discovering why a prosperous and growing nation had been reduced to a frightened mass of humanity selling apples on street corners and waiting in line for bowls of watery soup.”

He gradually lost faith in the ability of economists to answer his question because every economist he spoke with seemed to have a different explanation. He became convinced that something was missing from the study of economics and he eventually concluded that this was a knowledge of cycles. He wasn’t the only one.

When Dewey established the Foundation for the Study of Cycles (FSC) in 1941 he was joined by leaders from the Smithsonian, Yale, Columbia, Harvard, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and several major corporations, as well as leaders from Canada and Great Britain. Moreover, the Foundation was truly an interdisciplinary undertaking, spanning economics, astronomy, biology and geology.

First published in 1971, Cycles: The Mysterious Forces That Trigger Events was written at the pinnacle of Dewey’s 40-year quest to develop a “new science of cycles.” It is a record, as he says, “of our successes, our failures, our hopes, our doubts, our frustrations, and our progress.” Let’s take a brief look at one of the cycles he studied extensively.


One of the cycles documented by Dewey, and the one that will likely intrigue many new readers today, is a 41-month cycle in U.S. stock index prices from 1868-1957, as highlighted in Chapter 9.

Using the cycle detection methods developed by Dewey and others at the FSC, a similar analysis from the early 1950s to today reveals that a 41-month cycle (though a few weeks longer than the one Dewey identified) has indeed persisted through to the present day.

The solid black line in the accompanying chart is a detrended history of weekly data on the S&P 500. The dashed zig-zag line is an idealized 41-month cycle (182 weeks, to be precise). While the correspondence between the actual and idealized tops and bottoms isn’t perfect, there clearly remains a remarkable 41-month pulse in U.S. stocks. Moreover, it has been particularly evident since the 2008 top.

Dewey's 41-Month Cycle


Were Dewey still with us today, he would surely be both thrilled and a bit disappointed with the progress made in the study of cycles since his death 45 years ago.

On the one hand, he would be astounded with the technological progress since his day, especially in the areas of computational capacities and data collection. One of my personal joys at being involved with the FSC today is going through the archives, which are full of Dewey’s careful and beautiful handwritten efforts to collect data and identify cycles without the aid of computers. Documenting and discovering cycles was clearly a labor of love for Dewey. He would be in awe of our modern capabilities.

He would also be delighted with the renewed recognition that the study of cycles is receiving today through the work of prominent authors like Neil Howe (The Fourth Turning), Ray Dalio (Big Debt Cycles and The Changing World Order), Howard Marks (Mastering the Market Cycle), Peter Turchin (End Times), and George Friedman (The Storm Before the Calm).

On the other hand, Dewey would be a bit disappointed that these efforts and advances are taking place in relative isolation from one another, and that little effort is being made to advance an interdisciplinary science of cycles.

Dewey was clear that, for him, “comparative cycle study is the name of the game.” He said, “We compare cycles in all phenomena, searching for similarities and possible relationships among them.” He was interested, for example, in why there were observable 9.2-year cycles in phenomena as disparate as common stock prices, tree rings, lake levels, and grasshopper abundance.

Dewey’s burning question was, “Are there unknown environmental forces, predictable in their effects, that influence human beings and other forms of life and even nonlife here on earth – and, if so, what are they and how do they operate?”

Dewey’s question remains a powerful – yet controversial and challenging – question for us today. As Dewey himself observes early on in this classic work that you are about to explore, the notion that we are all “pulled this way and that by environmental forces” is “unsettling” and “demeaning to our self-esteem.”

Neil Howe similarly observes, in The Fourth Turning Is Here, that the idea of cycles “would strip those of us who live in the modern world of our most treasured privilege – a free and open – ended future in which we can aspire to be different from or better than our ancestors.”

The study of cycles has long been looked upon in the West as a questionable approach for understanding how our world works and what the future might hold. Whether it be Augustine in the Fourth Century warning against “invalidating salvation” by believing that, “the sky is responsible for your sin,” or our modern obsession with precision, specialization and the march of progress, a systematic and scientific study of cycles has not yet gotten the full attention it deserves.

It should not be a shocking hypothesis that there may be “tides in the affairs of men,” of which we remain unaware. Indeed, it would be more shocking if there were no such tides given how prominent rhythmic patterns are in our world.

Dewey hoped and believed that a knowledge of cycles would yield fruits such as the end of war and disease and the accurate prediction of weather a year or more in advance. While we may be more tempered from our own vantage point over half a century later, we should keep in mind that the first half of the twentieth century was a heady time for science and technology.

He was also honest about the fact that he could not yet explain the origins of the cycles he collected and catalogued. He saw his own work as being more akin to that of an early field biologist – collecting samples and analyzing data and sharing his work with other researchers and the public. He called others to the study of cycles.

It is often in periods of crisis that we find a renewed interest in the study of cycles. People begin to look beyond the ideals of linear progress as they search for deeper explanations for why things don’t seem to be going quite so well as they once were. That was certainly true in the early days of Dewey’s research and it is true again today. Why dig deeper, after all, when a rising tide is lifting all boats?

My own belief is that a recognition and appreciation of the unceasing and inescapable influence of cycles in our lives can help us to better regulate the highs and the lows. It can help us to remember during the upswings that the good times will not go on forever and, during the downturns, that better days lie ahead.

It’s when we fail to discover and acknowledge the influence of cycles that we really get ourselves into trouble. Neil Howe compellingly makes this point when he points out that, “The society that believes in cycles the least, America, has fallen into the grip of the most portentous cycle in the history of mankind.”

Edward Dewey saw the same thing over 80 years ago. His pioneering work and leadership in the study of cycles deserves wider recognition and we welcome the renewed interest that this new edition of his classic book will bring.

More importantly, we welcome the renewed interest in the study of cycles. Far from being merely a fearful study of the chains that bind us, a proper study of and respect for cycles opens paths of enhanced productivity, progress and peace as we learn to recognize and to cooperate with the many beautiful cycles of our treasured world.

Purchase your copy today!