McCraw on the Nature of Schumpeter’s Defense of Socialism

McCraw on the third part of Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

(p. 359) In answer to the question that opens Part III, “Can socialism work?” Schumpeter responds with the provocative statement, “Of course it can.” But a close reading of the subsequent text reveals that he actually means, “Of course (p. 360) it can’t,” at least in comparison with capitalism. He is now writing in full ironic mode, like the satirist Johnathan Swift. “A Modest Proposal”—Swift’s famous pamphlet of 1729—had suggested that problems of famine and overpopulation could be met by one simple step: feeding children from poor families to the rich. His proposal, Swift argued, was “innocent, cheap, easy and effectual.”

Schumpeter’s Swiftian approach to socialism recalls to mind the delight he took as a young man in Vienna’s coffeehouses, where political and artistic discussion often continued well into the night. In this kind of setting, no proposition was too absurd or too subtly hedged with conditions and exceptions . Speakers won admiration for their sarcasm and wit, no less than for the cogency of their arguments. To puncture a point of view while seeming to recommend it was especially delicious.

Source:
McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

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