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Schumpeter’s desequilibrum today

14 Sep

Another often quoted economist and political scientist is Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950). He was actually born in Moravia, became Austrian and then left for the US where he taught in Harvard, an interesting career. In his book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” (1942) Schumpeter introduced the concept of “creative destruction” in which the old ways of doing things are endogenously destroyed and replaced by the new. He described that the real driving force of capitalism is “disequilibrium”, opportunities coming up by new (today: global) demands, inspiring innovation, a recipe to also avoid monopoly power. He also warned governments not to protect certain markets or organizations that were unable to succeed in transformation processes. One could argue that this is pure Darwinism for economy dummies.

Those who understand sustainability as the roadmap to successfully implement globalization should nowadays find Schumpeter quite inspiring because his baseline for a healthy capitalism is very much in line with what is really needed now: we are facing the fact that we need to overcome several divides between the global North and South (e.g. market divide, digital divide, education divide, etc.), dematerializing by at least factor 10 until 2050, while another 3 billion people will join us until then, the majority of them in the developing and emerging market countries. The ecological footprint (a methodology to measure the planet’s biocapacity that is already used up, invented by several institutions now captured in the “Global Footprint Network”) tells us that we have already overstretched the global capacity by 20%, growing to 100% until 2050, meaning we would need TWO planets if we allow business as usual. What else than “creative destruction” can be the way forward to successfully integrate countries into the global world markets?

We already see first successful examples of creative destruction in countries like India, Mexico and Brazil, wonderfully captured by the recently died C.K. Prahalad in “The future at the bottom of the pyramid”, his legacy to global sustainability and a worthwhile challenge to companies to get their global business case act together; completely different business models that absorb the needs and adapting to the infrastructural shortages of differently developed markets. Some global companies are amongst these examples, but most of the innovative ones are rooted in developing or emerging market countries. The title of this book already indicates the failure of any “top down” approach, just exporting Northern business models to the global South in an attempt to just simply copy what has worked in the global North.

Interestingly, the year 2000 Lisbon EU strategy for innovation explicitly mentioned Schumpeter’s creative destruction as a way forward to foster innovation, enabling social and environmental renewal. It broadly aimed to make Europe the most competitive and the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 (well, that didn’t work out, but still remains the right way forward). Not too much has been achieved since then, so one should not wonder that companies from developing and emerging markets that have successfully tested their business models in their local markets now start to also take over their Northern competitors that are stuck in a protective political climate, trapped in existing infrastructure and sunk capital investments. To sum it up, Schumpeter’s ideas today seem to better work in the bottom-of-the-pyramid context where opportunities are just simply taken when they arise, no foot on the brake. If Schumpeter would still be alive he might have again packed his bags, heading towards India or Brazil!?!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in Back to basics

 

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