William Kingston, Schumpeter, Business Cycles and Co-Evolution, Industry and Innovation, 13, 1, 2006, 97 - 106
Industry and Innovation 13 1
In Business Cycles (1939) Schumpeter took up empirical data which had been produced by
Kondratieff, and made the ‘‘clustering’’ of innovations into the actual cause of long economic cycles. The book
was a failure, largely due to negative reviews which stressed the poor quality of its statistical analysis. In fact,
an even more serious fault in it is its reflection of a near-total blind spot in Schumpeter’s perspective about the
part played by law in economic life. He thought that ‘‘It is entirely immaterial whether or not [changes in the
institutional framework] are embodied in, or recognized by, legislation.’’ The reality is that the concept of coevolution
of technology and ways of doing business, on the one hand, and legal changes which affect the
conditions for investment in them, on the other, explain long cycles much more persuasively than
Schumpeter’s approach. It suggests that the first Kondratieff cycle was made possible by the availability of
‘‘full’’ property rights, the second by general limited liability law (which Schumpeter thought was ‘‘of
comparatively small importance’’) and the third by new patent legislation which made corporate investment in
R&D attractive. Schumpeter only discussed three cycles, but a co-evolutionary perspective makes it possible
to envisage a fourth cycle as dependent upon the trademark laws which sustain advertising and mass
markets, and a fifth one, in which the entertainment and information industries have been similarly
underwritten by copyright law. The most plausible reason why Schumpeter undervalued laws was his
attraction to the economic interpretation of history. According to this, laws, like ideas, are no more than
reflections on a psychic level of social and economic realities, and have little or no power to shape these. For
Keynes, in contrast, ‘‘it is ideas, not vested interests, that are dangerous for good or ill’’. There was
consequently no place for co-evolution in Schumpeter’s thought. But what made him publish a book which he
described as ‘‘a house which is not finished and furnished’’, when he did? It could be that the stimulus was
evidence of the huge fame which Keynes’s General Theory was already winning.
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