Wednesday, May 27, 2009


When a book grabs me before I have read the tenth page, I know I am in for a treat. I began reading Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter just yesterday. I have only been able to put it down because I knew I had other obligations. Still, I am captivated by the insight of this great economist. He realized before WWII was over that the Soviet Union - not Germany or Japan - stood as the greatest threat to democracy (and, one might argue, to freedom). He realized before the war ended that Germany and Japan needed to become allies to the US in order to hold off Soviet expansion. These truths seem obvious to the detached observer looking back over the six plus decades since he published his book, but at the time they were so controversial that he had to mask them cleverly throughout the book. He masked some of it so well, in fact, that many readers took him to be a defender of (and believer in) socialism.

His ideas are still groundbreaking today. As one article put it in 2000, "The greatest economist of our time died fifty years ago." He understood that facism, socialism, and capitalism could not stand together, but none of the three could destroy the other. In short, the man had a keen grasp of the dangerous future the world had in store. The introduction to this latest edition explains how visionary he was.

His first section of the book, however, would have grabbed my attention without the introduction. He explains the doctrine of Marx - yes, Karl Marx - and calls him a prophet of a religion. When I compare his words to the attitude of most socialists I have met, I see exactly what he meant. Socialists see an ideal world waiting for us all - if we would all agree to follow socialism together. Those who do not agree are heretics, sinners of the worst kind. Having argued with many socialists, I can see where Schumpeter got such a notion. Socialists have their doctrine and - in most cases - it does not matter whether it agrees with logic, disregards human nature, or calls upon irrational behavior. It is simply right. How true it is that socialism becomes a religion. As I continue to read the book, I may feel inclined to write more on this subject, but the first chapter already has me nodding my head so vigorously that I couldn't help but put up a post about it. I am excited to read the section detailing how socialism can work (or how it doesn't). I am sure I will want to post about that one.

-- Robert

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