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Creative Destruction—The Best Game in Town

August 29, 2013 in Economics

By Robert Higgs

In his justly famous 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Joseph A. Schumpeter described the dynamics of a market economy as a process of “creative destruction.” In his view, innovation—“the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates”—drives this process. Its most important result is that for the first time in history, the mass of the population in developed countries enjoys a standard of living that even the aristocrats of past ages could scarcely have imagined, much less have actually had.

Yet, as Schumpeter sought to express by his pithy term, the process is not merely creative, but also destructive. As a market economy develops, it necessarily brings about an immense variety of changes in particular demands and supplies, and hence it results in losses as well as profits. For those who rely on selling goods or services in declining or disappearing demand, for those whose locations no longer fit well into emerging spatial patterns of production, for those whose techniques of production no longer represent a means of maximizing net revenues, for those whose skills and experience no longer attract eager buyers in the labor markets—for them and countless others, the process of economic development brings anxiety, disappointment, loss, and in some cases ruin.

The losers take little solace in the thought that their economic displacement or demotion by more competitive workers and producers constitutes the heart and soul of a process by which the entire society, on average, becomes richer. And their plight has always attracted legions of critics who correctly blame the market system for the wreckage. It is simply impossible for the process of economic development to operate without losers. A market economy is a profit-and-loss system. Profits signal the desirability (to consumers) of moving resources to new employments; losses signal the desirability (to consumers) of removing resources from current employments. On the one hand, people are drawn by the prospect of heightened economic pleasure; on the other hand, they are repelled by the onset of persistent economic pain. In this way the overall system continually reshapes itself to comport more effectively with the prevailing patterns of demand and supply.

For the losers, the perceived remedy of their plight has often been not to make the necessary personal adjustments as well as possible, but to use force, especially state force, to burden or …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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