17 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2020 Last revised: 3 Mar 2021
Date Written: September 16, 2020
Abstract: Drawing on McCraw’s (2007) biography, this paper assesses the character of Joseph Schumpeter. After a biographical summary of Schumpeter’s life and career as an economist, the paper considers a thread of deliberate posturing and pretense in Schumpeter’s grandiose ambitions and claims about himself. It also takes account of his ambiguous political and moral stance in both his personal, public and scholarly lives, in particular his tenure as finance minister in the short-lived German Socialist government after World War I and his famous prediction of the ultimate demise of capitalism in his celebrated Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Although he emigrated to the US in the 1930s Schumpeter was suspected of harboring pro-German or even pro-Nazi sympathies during World War II, sympathies that are at least partially confirmed by the letters and papers discussed at length by McCraw. Moreover, despite Schumpeter’s support for his student Paul Samuelson, when Samuelson, owing to anti-Semitic prejudice, was rejected for a permanent appointment at Harvard, Samuelson himself judged Schumpeter to have been antisemitic. Nevertheless, despite his character flaws, Schumpeter exhibited a generosity of spirit in his assessments of the work of other economists in his last and greatest work The History of Economic Analysis, a work also exhibiting uncharacteristic self-effacement by its author. That self-effacement may be-attributable to Schumpeter’s own tragic and largely unrealized ambition to achieve the technical analytical breakthroughs to which he accorded highest honors in his assessments of the work of other economists, notably, Quesnay, Cournot and Walras.
Keywords: Schumpeter, Creative Destruction, Capitalism, Socialism, History of Economics, Antisemitism
JEL Classification: B2, B20, B25, B30, B31, B52
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation