“Can capitalism survive? No. I do not think it can.” Thus opens Schumpeter’s prologue to a section of his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. One might think, on the basis of the quote, that Schumpeter was a Marxist. But the analysis that led Schumpeter to his conclusion differed totally from Karl Marx’s. Marx believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its enemies (the proletariat), whom capitalism had purportedly exploited, and he relished the prospect. Schumpeter believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its successes, that it would spawn a large intellectual class that made its living by attacking the very bourgeois system of private property and freedom so necessary for the intellectual class’s existence. And unlike Marx, Schumpeter did not relish the destruction of capitalism. “If a doctor predicts that his patient will die presently,” he wrote, “this does not mean that he desires it.”
Innovation by the entrepreneur, argued Schumpeter, leads to gales of “creative destruction” as innovations cause old inventories, ideas, technologies, skills, and equipment to become obsolete. The question is not “how capitalism administers existing structures, … [but] how it creates and destroys them.” This creative destruction, he believed, causes continuous progress and improves the standards of living for everyone.
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