Solow on Schumpeter

Robert Solow is perhaps the funniest economist I know producing the marvellous passage quoted here on ideological orientations within economics.  As well as being funny, he’s super smart and low key sensible – a doubly rare combination.

Here’s his review of the McCraw biography on Schumpeter which is less dewy eyed than most of the reviews (though there are no good jokes in it).  I think Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy is a brilliant book, but as Solow says, it was not a major work but a brilliant essay I think it could be called a jeu d’esprit though having looked that expression up on the web, perhaps I’m going to far.

Its prediction that Capitalism would collapse into Socialism was not only wide of the mark, it was made at just the time that Hayek was trying to argue the opposite – something he turned out to be right about. Judging from Solow’s description of Business Cycles, the book Schumpeter hoped would compete with Keynes’ General Theory, it sounds like the failure that he describes it as.

Schumpeter’s A History of Economic Analysis sits forever partially – very partially – read on my bookshelf – very interesting to dip into, but learned to the point of obscurantism.

Here’s a tip – if you’re interested in the article, don’t link through to the New Republic – even though it’s possible with some perseverence to read it that way.  Just scroll down Greg Mankiw’s blog to this comment and it’s all there.

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James Farrell
James Farrell
16 years ago

That was well worth reading, especially for Solow’s oral history. The point about Schempeter’s supposed business cycle theory is well made. There really isn’t much of a theory – dip into any history of thought textbook for a coherent statement of it and see how unsatisfying the experience is. It’s also an interesting puzzle in the history of economic thought that so many great economists, including both admirers and critics of capitalism – were seduced by the notion of periodic cycles, which looks quaint from this distance.