Joseph Schumpeter


Joseph Schumpeter : biography

8 February 1883 – 8 January 1950

Schumpeter and Keynesianism

Unlike Keynes, in Schumpeter’s theory, Walrasian equilibrium is not adequate to capture the key mechanisms of economic development. Schumpeter also thought that the institution enabling the entrepreneur to purchase the resources needed to realize his or her vision was a well-developed capitalist financial system, including a whole range of institutions for granting credit. One could divide economists among (1) those who emphasized "real" analysis and regarded money as merely a "veil" and (2) those who thought monetary institutions are important and money could be a separate driving force. Both Schumpeter and Keynes were among the latter.

Schumpeter and capitalism’s demise

Schumpeter’s most popular book in English is probably Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. This book opens with a treatment of Karl Marx. While he is sympathetic to Marx’s theory that capitalism will collapse and will be replaced by socialism, Schumpeter concludes that this will not come about in the way Marx predicted. To describe it he borrowed the phrase "creative destruction", and made it famous by using it to describe a process in which the old ways of doing things are endogenously destroyed and replaced by new ways.

Schumpeter’s theory is that the success of capitalism will lead to a form of corporatism and a fostering of values hostile to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. The intellectual and social climate needed to allow entrepreneurship to thrive will not exist in advanced capitalism; it will be replaced by socialism in some form. There will not be a revolution, but merely a trend in parliaments to elect social democratic parties of one stripe or another. He argued that capitalism’s collapse from within will come about as democratic majorities vote for restrictions upon entrepreneurship that will burden and destroy the capitalist structure, but also emphasizes non-political, evolutionary processes in society where "liberal capitalism" was evolving into democratic socialism because of the growth of workers’ self-management, industrial democracy and regulatory institutions.John Medearis, "Schumpeter, the New Deal, and Democracy", The American Political Science Review, 1997.

Schumpeter emphasizes throughout this book that he is analyzing trends, not engaging in political advocacy. In his vision, the intellectual class will play an important role in capitalism’s demise. The term "intellectuals" denotes a class of persons in a position to develop critiques of societal matters for which they are not directly responsible and able to stand up for the interests of strata to which they themselves do not belong. One of the great advantages of capitalism, he argues, is that as compared with pre-capitalist periods, when education was a privilege of the few, more and more people acquire (higher) education. The availability of fulfilling work is, however, limited, and this lack, coupled with the experience of unemployment, produces discontent. The intellectual class is then able to organize protest and develop critical ideas.

Schumpeter and democratic theory

In the same book, Schumpeter expounded a theory of democracy which sought to challenge what he called the "classical doctrine". He disputed the idea that democracy was a process by which the electorate identified the common good, and politicians carried this out for them. He argued this was unrealistic, and that people’s ignorance and superficiality meant that in fact they were largely manipulated by politicians, who set the agenda. This made a ‘rule by the people’ concept both unlikely and undesirable. Instead he advocated a minimalist model, much influenced by Max Weber, whereby democracy is the mechanism for competition between leaders, much like a market structure. Although periodic votes by the general public legitimize governments and keep them accountable, the policy program is very much seen as their own and not that of the people, and the participatory role for individuals is usually severely limited.