Schumpeter on Michael Moore's Anti-Capitalism Film
Monday, October 5, 2009 at 9:23PM
John Prothro

Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883 to 1950), a highly respected economist of the Austrian school, famously predicted the fall of Capitalism.  But unlike Marx, Schumpeter defended the values of Capitalism and felt its success, not its failure, would lead to its fall.  To Schumpeter, the success of Capitalism would spurn the growth of a comfortable, rationalist class willing to undermine the very system that gave them power.

Below is a selection from Schumpeter's Capitalism Socialism and Democracy where Schumpeter outlines two reasons for the growing hostility toward Capitalism.  This book was first published in 1942.  Today as we watch Michael Moore use film to criticize a system that has made him millions, we can't help but think Schumpeter would not be surprised.

 ...capitalism creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own; the bourgeois finds to his amazement that the rationalist attitude does not stop at the credentials of kings and popes but goes on to attack private property and the whole scheme of bourgeois values.   

The bourgeois fortress thus becomes politically defenseless.  Defenseless fortresses invite aggression especially if there is rich booty in them.  Aggressors will work themselves up into a state of rationalizing hostility--aggressors always do...

And those industrialists will assuredly not fail to point out that a sensible workman, in weighing the pro's and con's of his contract with, say one of the big steel or automotive concerns, might well come to the conclusion that, everything considered, he is not doing so badly and that the advantages of this bargain are not all on one side.  Yes--certainly, only all that is quite irrelevant.

For, first it is an error to believe that political attack arises primarily from grievance and that it can be turned by justification.  Political criticism cannot be met effectively by rational argument.  From the fact that the criticism of the capitalist order proceeds from ... an attitude which spurns allegiance to extra-rational values, it does not follow that rational refutation will be accepted.  Such refutation may tear the rational garb of attack but can never reach the extra-rational driving power that always lurks behind it...

Second, ... (the case for capitalism) ... could never be made simple.  People at large would have to be possessed of an insight and a power of analysis which are altogether beond them.  Why, practically every nonsense that has bever been said about capitlism has been championed by some professed economist.  But even if this is disregarded, rational recognition of the economic performance of capitlism and of the hopes it holds out for the future would require an almost impossible moral feat by the have-not ... any pro-capitalist argument must rest on long-run considerations.

Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, (New York:  Harper Perennial, 1976), 143-145.

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