The length of skirts in a recession




I was cleaning up my office yesterday when I stumbled across a little book called Why Yesterday Tells of Tomorrow, by Helmut Gaus.  A friend gave it to me years ago and I smiled when I saw the cover again.  I remembered it showed some of the most creative (some would say outrageous) data correlations I had ever seen.  One of them for example compared the average length of skirts with the number of suicides in France.  The point Gaus was making however was very interesting and it couldn’t be more actual today.  Are changes in the economy caused by changes in the mental state of society?


Gaus’ theory starts with the work of Russian statistician Nikolaj Kondratieff.  In 1925 Kondratieff discovered long macro economic waves that would repeat themselves every 50 years throughout history through alternating periods of growth and decline.  Click on the picture below for more details on the Kondratieff waves.





Kondratieff himself had to pay a heavy price for this discovery.  His predictions that the economy would eventually decline were not popular with Stalin who sent him to Siberia to be executed. 


Much has been written about whether the Kondratieff waves actually exist.  Not everyone is convinced but the truth is they have been reasonably predictive, to this day.  Apparently we have just entered a Kondratieff Winter – a period severe of depression that can last up to 20 years.  Let’s hope these waves are not that predictive!


Gaus was most interested in the causes of the waves which most thought to be macro economic.  Gaus was convinced that the real drivers were psychological.  He argued that the Kondratieff waves coincided and in some cases even followed what he called anxiety waves which are predictive of changes in tastes, values and behavior. 


To prove his point he gathered data on women’s fashion trends.  He found that in periods of high anxiety women wear less color, fewer patterns, lower necklines and longer skirts.  In periods of lower anxiety they wear brighter colors and patterns, higher necklines and short skirts.  This allowed him to create an anxiety wave based on the prevalence of these fashion trends over time. 


He found startling correlations between anxiety levels and all sorts of indicators such as marriages, births, employment levels, suicides and investment levels over time.  He also found striking correlations between fashion indicators and the Kondratieff waves.  The graph below for example shows the average width of the waist and the Kondratieff wave for the US from 1791-1936. 




The idea that fluctuations in the economy are caused by the collective levels of anxiety is interesting but hard to prove.  Data on the mental state of society is scarce, which is why Gaus used data on fashion as a proxy.  There is however a relatively new data source that holds exteremely rich informatoion on what’s on people’s minds – it’s the data held by search engines.  Knowing what people search on and how that changes over time could potentially lead to a barometer of society’s mental state.  Maybe the folks at Google would be interested in doing some research in this area.  Saying that though, they’re probably doing this already … .


  1. Dave   |   9:02 am

    Great article Dimitri and in my mind there is no doubt that a correlation exists between collective attitude and the economy. In exactly the same way that sunny weather has an impact on people’s state of well being (you only have to witness the collective euphoria in London on a rare sunny day).

    Taking this thought forward then, I’ve long wondered whether a link exists between weather and economic stability… are countries with a warmer sunnier climate less susceptible to erratic economic shifts? It shouldn’t be that hard to source the data, maybe we should giving it a crack? I’m sure it would have Kondratieff blessing!

  2. Julian Phryes   |   5:49 pm

    Kondratieff made the point that the oscillations, the rise and fall were a natural part of human population. Those insulated from horticulture, from nature, from the growth cycles of life, try to describe the world in data sets. Kondratieff made a very simple, but profound observation, “as those with direct knowledge and experience die off, the understanding and therefore pyschology of those left living, changes.”

    Thus those who understood the depression and wrote the laws to protect finance from itself, passed on, and those left to run the government could not understand why such laws needed to exist. So they were rescinded, and so finance destroys itself again. A Kondratieff wave?

    This is macro economic stuff, we are watching the destruction of knowledge and abilities in America as entire factories are shipped overseas, never to return. We lose not only the jobs and the revenues, but the knowledge of procedures and processes needed to run basic industries that will be necessary when an economic collapse makes trade and foreign imports too expensive or too difficult.

    What does the nation do in time of war, when goods cannot be purchased across the world? A great cloud of stupidity is descending over this land, and the elites will have us argue about created issues, “gay marriage” or “union wages” or other some such things while the real news goes unreported, and the real looting and destruction are not discussed.

    These waves are real, and exist for a reason, we can no more undo them than, deny the seasons or our own mortality. We would do well to understand them better that we might prepare for them and weather them as well as we can.

  3. Liz D   |   10:39 am

    Interesting correlations.

    Julian Phryes- I’m sorry that you think the “elites” are “creating” the issues of gay marriage in order to eventually cover up the non-existant looting.

    Infact, with the love of fear and redundancy that the media tends to exhibit, I wouldn’t be surprised if every looting in the country got reported.

    A cloud of stupidity has always been on the land, and all over the world. We’re no stupider than before.

  4. Mike F   |   9:01 am

    Very interesting. I’ll have to find a copy of the book. Looks very similar to the Theory of Socionomics and the Wave Principle. Thanks for posting this.

  5. Julian Phyres   |   9:42 am

    When I say looting, I mean not the petty thievery of the violent or the poor, I mean the outright fraud and swindling that is hollowing out American corporations and institutions including the U.S. Treasury. Fraud such as the AIG multi trillion dollar Credit Default Swaps and the backdoor monies to Goldman Sachs via AIG and Treasury Secretary Paulson (Ex goldman sachs)

    I mean no disrespect for issues such as “gay marriage” or other talk radio fodder, I merely point out the disparate amount of time flogging these dead horses rather than discussing the real matters that are truely destroying this nation, namely the financial chicanery.

    I agree with you about the media’s omnipresent drumbeat of reduncancy and fear, it is the tools by which they manipulate the masses which is their primary mission in our society, to drive them to seek meaning and security from the purchase of ever more goods and services through the acquistion of personal debt.

    I also agree this world has also always had more than enough stupidity and ignorance to go around, however a new wave of stupidity is falling upon us, perhaps intentional, perhaps merely inevitable, but falling around us like snow in winter.

    My point being that a Kondratieff wave indicates a loss of the knowledge of those who came before the current generation and who are dying off, due to structural changes in how society replicates and stores knowledge, much of what these people know has never been captured or quantified, it is ephemeral and will like the morning dew begone by noon.

    While it is fun and entertaining to tie disparate data sets together, to portray the infinite permutations of cause and effect, it does little to address the real problem at the heart of the matter which is we don’t really understand the world we are living in very well at all and our institutions exist to obfuscate what understanding can be gleaned rather than to transmit and amplify the knowledge.

    It is a suckers game and it is best if the suckers are kept stupid as it makes it easier for them to be taken advantage of.

    I would advise you to stand outside the game as much as possible, their is little to win and much to lose.

    When so many people understand so little about so much, I offer that stupidity is gaining an upper hand at a rapid rate. Critical thinking is no longer taught in schools, the goal is rote recitation of the facts of the state, and one does not need knowledge to become a good little consumer in debt for life so financial knowledge is not taught.

    The systems are breaking down, as evidenced by the massive government bailout of the banks, the massive government debt that cannot be repaid leading to the destruction of the default currency of the world, the U.S. dollar. What will American society be like when the dollar fails?

    So many of these things would be obvious to someone who had lived through the Depression and the Cold War, but many of these people are already dead and the rest are deemed irrelevant based on their age, Kondratieff proves the system purges previous knowledge to make certain we can not only make new mistakes, but old mistakes as well.

  6. JaneRadriges   |   5:33 pm

    The article is usefull for me. I’ll be coming back to your blog.

  7. KattyBlackyard   |   1:03 am

    Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

  8. GarykPatton   |   10:19 pm

    How soon will you update your blog? I’m interested in reading some more information on this issue.

  9. Jovencitas Latinas Modelos   |   10:39 am

    emm… bookmarked..