Schumpeter

This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.

The Economist has a column named after Joseph Schumpeter and it’s been giving me a lot of ideas.  Who was Schumpeter?

Schumpeter claimed that he had set himself three goals in life: to be the greatest economist in the world, to be the best horseman in all of Austria and the greatest lover in all of Vienna. He said he had reached two of his goals, but he never said which two, although he is reported to have said that there were too many fine horsemen in Austria for him to succeed in all his aspirations.

On what would happen:

Schumpeter’s most popular book in English is probably Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. While he agrees with Karl Marx that capitalism will collapse and be replaced by socialism, Schumpeter predicts a different way this will come about. While Marx predicted that capitalism would be overthrown by a violent proletarian revolution, which actually occurred in the least capitalist countries, Schumpeter believed that capitalism would gradually weaken by itself and eventually collapse. Specifically, the success of capitalism would lead to corporatism and to values hostile to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. “Intellectuals” are a social class in a position to critique societal matters for which they are not directly responsible and to stand up for the interests of other classes. Intellectuals tend to have a negative outlook of capitalism, even while relying on it for prestige, because their professions rely on antagonism toward it. The growing number of people with higher education is a great advantage of capitalism, according to Schumpeter. Yet, unemployment and a lack of fulfilling work will cause intellectual critique, discontent and protests. Parliaments will increasingly elect social democratic parties, and democratic majorities will vote for restrictions on entrepreneurship. Increasing workers’ self-management, industrial democracy and regulatory institutions would evolve non-politically into “liberal capitalism”. Thus, the intellectual and social climate needed for thriving entrepreneurship will be replaced by some form of “laborism”. This will exacerbate “creative destruction” (a borrowed phrase to denote an endogenous replacement of old ways of doing things by new ways), which will ultimately undermine and destroy the capitalist structure.

Schumpeter emphasizes throughout this book that he is analyzing trends, not engaging in political advocacy.

Any day now!

Schumpeter was interested in the wave theories of Nikolai Kondratiev, a Soviet economist who ended up executed.

He is best known for proposing the theory that Western capitalist economies have long term (50 to 60 years) cycles of boom followed by depression. These business cycles are now called “Kondratiev waves“.

I can’t claim to understand Kondratiev, but the idea that waves are a good metaphor for the cycles of capitalism seems like a start.



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