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The Absurd Attitude of Joseph Schumpeter and His Fatalism and Sarcasm on the Coming of Socialism

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Via Economic Policy Journal

 Joseph Schumpeter

By Richard Ebeling

Joseph Schumpeter’s book, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, is also famous for another element as well: His deep fatalism and pessimism that capitalism was doomed and socialism (in some form) was inevitable. He was clearly impressed and influenced by Karl Marx as a sociologist analyzing the tendencies and directions of capitalist society. But Schumpeter was anything but a Marxist, though always fascinated by the Marxian worldview and its appeal in the intellectual and practical world in which he lived.

Indeed, several of his friends were surprised when back in 1919 he agreed to participate in a postwar German government commission to investigate possible means and methods for the “socialization” of the coal and related industries in Germany, since they all knew his negative views on socialism in general. He commented that, “If somebody wants to commit suicide, it is a good thing if a doctor is present.” He was not sure if actual socialism, fully implemented, could work or not, but, “At any rate, it will be an interesting experiment to try out.”

Schumpeter’s almost witty bemusement about the coming of the socialist epoch that seemed to be ahead drove some interlocutors crazy. For instance, the Austrian banker, Felix Somary (1881-1956), who had been in Böhm-Bawerk’s seminar at the University of Vienna with Schumpeter and Mises, recounted in his book, The Raven of Zurich (1960), a meeting that he had arranged between the famous German sociologist, Max Weber (1864-1920), and Schumpeter at a Vienna Café around this time. The conversation turned sour as the discussion shifted to the recent Russian Revolution. As recounted by Somary: 

“The talk turned to the Russian Revolution, and Schumpeter expressed satisfaction that socialism was no longer an abstract theoretical notion but would now be tested in the real world. Weber said with some heat that communism at the Russian stage of development was a crime – he knew the language and followed Russian affairs closely. He added that developments in Russia would lead to unheard-of human misery and a terrible catastrophe.  

“‘That may well be,’ said Schumpeter, ‘but it would be a good laboratory to test our theories.’

“‘A laboratory heaped with human corpses!’ rejoined Weber.

“‘Every anatomy class is the same thing,’ Schumpeter shot back. . . 

“Weber became more vehement and raised his voice, as Schumpeter for his part became more sarcastic and lowered his. All around us the café customers stopped their card games and listened eagerly, until the point when Weber sprang to his feet and rushed out into the Ringstrasse, crying, ‘This is intolerable!’ . . . Schumpeter, who had remained behind with me, only smiled and said, ‘How can someone carry on like that in a coffee house!’”

The above is excerpted from a longer essay, Joseph A. Schumpeter, Outsider Looking In

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