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Professor Schumpeter


Joseph A. Schumpeter has left his classes and his biographers with a problem: "In my youth," he used to say, "my ambition was to be the greatest lover in Vienna, the greatest horseman in Austria, and the greatest economist in the world. In one of those goals I have failed." The ladies who observed his continental charm and erudition and the economists who learned from his will both dispute him as their own; perhaps the horses will lose him in the long run only because they are inarticulate.

Professor Schumpeter rose above the turmoil of Conservative, Keynesian, and Collectivist viewpoints as few men could do. Instead of attempting compromise he built his own house of economic theory--a theoretical structure that few could assail because few could do battle with it honestly. Often he was a man it was safer to try to ignore. His "Theory of the Business Cycle" was buttressed by some of the most exhaustive research ever attempted in the field of Economics, embracing examples from classic Greek fisheries to Land Grant Railroads. Having trekked over the continent of Europe in a manner that would provide material for a novel, his experience as well as vast reading let him take the true measure of both Marx and Marshall. He realized an Economist did not operate in vacuo.

Unlike many devotees of the science he served, he never confused what he wanted with what he predicted. He saw a drift towards Socialism and state ownership of the means of production; yet he also was quite clear in confessing regrets. He succeeded in analyzing the dynamics of the free enterprise system far beyond the understanding of most in his age, but he honestly faced the possibility that capitalism with all its fond folk lore was a thing of the past. When he found himself in opposition he expressed it as an individual, and he never took personal refuge in a theoretical labyrinth. Harvard and the world is a poorer place for his passing.

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