" ... if Keynes was the most important economist of the 20th century, then Schumpeter may well be the most important of the 21st ... "
" ... In a later book, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Schumpeter wrote that the traditional view of competition must be abandoned. "Economists," he said, "are at long last emerging from the stage in which price competition was all they saw. ... However, it is still competition within a rigid pattern of invariant conditions, methods of production and forms of industrial organization ... that ... monopolizes attention. But in capitalist reality as distinguished from its textbook picture, it is not that kind of competition which counts but the competition from the new commodity, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization — competition which commands a decisive cost or quality advantage and which strikes not at the margins of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives."
Entrepreneurs innovate new ways of manipulating nature, and new ways of assembling and coordinating people. It is important to stress that a Schumpeterian entrepreneur is not an inventor, but an innovator. The innovator shows that a product, a process, or a mode of organization can be efficient and profitable, and that elevates the entire economy. But it also destroys those organizations and people who suddenly find their technologies and routines outmoded and unprofitable. There is, Schumpeter was certain, no way of avoiding this: Capitalism cannot progress without creating short-term losers alongside its short- and long-term winners: "Without innovations, no entrepreneurs; without entrepreneurial achievement, no capitalist ... propulsion. The atmosphere of industrial revolutions ... is the only one in which capitalism can survive."
Schumpeter's ideas lay waste to economists' smooth graphs of long-run growth trends and economic evolution. Growth produces progress and wealth, but in unforeseeable ways and in discrete lumps that create many small winners (for example, the people who can now buy their shirts at Wal-Mart for $8.99 as opposed to $12.99 at its less-efficient competitors), a few huge winners (for example, the Walton family of Bentonville, Ark.), and notable substantial losers (the Main Street merchants of the Mississippi Valley, the Great Plains, and the Sun Belt).
Schumpeter, like his contemporary Karl Polanyi, feared for the long-term survival of capitalism. Bureaucrats and ideologues threatened by creative destruction would resist it. The challenge for the government in managing the market thus becomes not just the Adam Smithian task of securing property rights, enforcing contracts, and providing civil order, but also the tremendously difficult job of managing the creative destruction so that capitalism does not undermine and destroy itself for essentially political reasons. Schumpeter did not think the beast could be managed, because democracy is hostile to great inequalities, and socialism even more so.
Capitalism, however, inevitably generates these mammoth inequalities through creative destruction. The combinations of market economies and political democracies that we see today in the richest countries in the world were, Schumpeter thought, unlikely to be stable. No country that wanted to see rapid economic growth could afford to remain a political democracy for long.
He did not think governments could maintain enough social insurance to counter the destructive part of capitalism without strangling the sources of rapid growth. But why Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy places so much blame on "democracy" is unclear to me: Oligarchs fear change at least as much as democratic electorates do. ... "
By J. BRADFORD DELONG