Joseph Schumpeter at Harvard

In grading his daily performances, he gave himself numerical credit for writing and research — including his endless effort to master mathematics — but seldom for teaching, counseling students, or any other duty.  He enjoyed reading Latin and Greek texts, as well as European novels and biographies — Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Morley’s multivolume Gladstone, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians.  Sometimes he indulged himself with Ellery Queen and other detective novelists.  He loved to dine out and to attend art exhibitions and classical music concerts.  But he regarded most of these activities as unseemly distractions.  The only thing that really counted as work.  On that dimension Schumpeter held himself to unattainable standards and wrestled constantly with his conscience.  He was still trying to work out an "exact economics; and in doing so he was setting a real intellectual trap for himself.

That is from Thomas McCraw’s superlative Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction.  Here is David Warsh on the book.


So, I have long heard it claimed, including from people who knew
him personally, that Schumpeter claimed that as a young man he
aspired to be the best in Vienna at three things: a lover, a
horseman, and an economist. He is then reputed to have stated
that he had achieved two out of the three, but would never say
which two. Presumably economist was one, but I have this vision
of him pursuing a beautiful woman on horseback through the
Vienna Woods...

I have more recently heard minor variations on the story, such
as that he wanted to be the best economist in the world, and
the best at one of the other two in Austria, but the earlier
version is the one I heard from someone who claims to have
heard it from "Schumpy's" own lips.

Although Schumpeter has been accuesed of Nazi sympathies
and covert anti-Semitism, he was reportedly Samuelson's
strongest defender when the latter was denied a position
at Harvard, reputedly on the grounds of his being Jewish.

Schumpeter was by the greater economist than George Stigler,
whose claim to fame is that he was The Enforcer of the
most narrow-minded version of Chicago orthodoxy. Can
anybody tell us anything worthy of remembering that
Stigler ever did, please, besides make snide remarks?
Well, his _Theory of Prices_ was well written, if utterly
conventional and now completely out of date.


I will grant that Stigler was good for quite a few good quotes
(and Stigler was also tall). He was also a very capable, and
in his day influential, economist (he did get a Nobel, although
it is a sign of the situation that he is the only one of the
Nobel Chicagoans that I cannot remember what it was for).

In any case, Schumpeter is far more influential and important
in today's economics than is Stigler, who is best remembered
for his wisecracks and personal judgments, some of them way
off-base, such as his one about Schumpeter.


Schumpeter is the single most important economist in the area of technological change.
Stigler is far behind such figures as Hayek and Akerlof in the economics of information,
with his work in that area infrequently cited now. His work in regulation is probably
what he is still most cited for, and he can be viewed as influential in the changed antitrust
policy of the 1980s. Most of his cited work was published in the 1960s.

A paper by Anderson, Levy, and Tollison shows that as of 1983, Schumpeter was the seventh
most cited economist of all time. His citation rate has only gone up since then according
to a paper last year by Arthur Diamond. Around 1990, his citation rate began to exceed
that of Keynes and has continued to rise. He is more important than ever, while Stigler
is disappearing rapidly down a memory hole.

There is no comparison. Schumpeter is one of the greatest economists of all time. Stigler
was an important player in the 1960s Chicago economics department, but in fact dominated by
several of his colleagues of the same time. They are not even remotely in the same league.

BTW, I got more on the story about Schumpeter's youthful ambitions. Diamond quotes Samuelson
as saying Schumpy wanted to be the best in all three in the entire world, but granted that he
had fallen short in horsemanship.

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