Courtesy Reuters

Schumpeter's Heirs

The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter put entrepreneurs at the center of his model of capitalism. Innovation was crucial to dynamism and growth, he argued, and entrepreneurs were the ones who made innovation happen. The “new combinations” of economic factors they brought together propelled the whole system onward and upward. Moreover, their efforts were anything but ordinary or easy: “To act with confidence beyond the range of familiar beacons and to overcome [society’s] resistance requires aptitudes that are present in only a small fraction of the population.”

A century on from his first writings on the subject, Schumpeter would be pleasantly surprised to learn that despite his sometimes gloomy predictions about creeping socialism and stagnation, entrepreneurs across the globe still continue in their revolutionary ways and his “perennial gale of creative destruction” continues to rage.

Others would be less pleased. Like diners in the old joke complaining about a restaurant where the food is terrible and the portions too small, they worry that not enough innovation is occurring these days and that what little there is subtracts jobs rather than adding them. Everybody wants more growth, more dynamism, and more broadly distributed benefits, but nobody seems to know how to get there.

So for our lead package this issue, we decided to do a deep dive into entrepreneurialism today—what it involves, what it accomplishes, what its impact is on the broader economy and society, what governments can do to encourage its spread and reap its benefits. 

Our package begins with interviews with six leading practitioners: Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), Marcelo Claure (founder of Brightstar and now ceo of Sprint), Helen Greiner (founder of iRobot and CyPhy Works), Mo Ibrahim (founder of Celtel), Niklas Zennstrom (founder of Kazaa, Skype, and Atomico), and Michael Moritz (an early backer of Google, PayPal, Yahoo, and countless other tech giants).

Then, Robert Litan assesses the current state of entrepreneurialism in the United States; James Bessen describes how vested interests block entrepreneurial progress; Mariana Mazzucato explores the crucial role of government in spurring innovation; Bryan Mezue, Clayton Christensen, and Derek van Bever show how “market-creating innovation” can help the developing world; and James Surowiecki traces the entrepreneurial origins of the digital era.

Our conclusion: entrepreneurs may not be able to solve all of the world’s economic problems, and they certainly can’t do it by themselves—but Schumpeter was onto something, and we would all do well to listen.

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